Wimbledon 2015: Grigor Dimitrov Dimitrov on target with his rockets to bring back memories of Pistol Pete

Dimitrov beat Steve Johnson 7-6 6-2 7-6

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The Independent Online

Here comes the Bulgarian Express, calling at all stations to the Wimbledon final on this evidence. At least this year Andy Murray can put his feet up and watch some other chump chase Grigor Dimitrov’s shadow, protected as he is on the opposite side of the draw.

It was against Dimitrov that Murray came to grief a year ago after progressing to the last eight without dropping a set. He was left rooted to the spot by the flame-thrower from Haskovo, who was at it again yesterday against Steve Johnson, sending down screamers at a top speed of 137mph in what turned out to be a straight-sets classic.

For two of the three sets, Johnson gave almost as good as he got. The pair served 30 aces between them, 17 of those detonated by Dimitrov, whose principal weapon remained intact throughout the 7-6,  6-2, 7-6 win.

There is more than a whiff of Pete Sampras about Dimitrov in this setting; the same metronomic service action, the same rasping backhand delivered in the traditional manner, none of this double-handed nonsense.

And in appearance, too, the similarities are striking if you happen to have left your glasses at home. They share a swarthy outline common to the Balkan male, if we can group Sampras thus with his Greek roots, and then there is the familiar crouch when feet bite into the turf.

The only element missing is the dart to the net, Dimitrov being very much a creature of the age with his preference for the assault from the baseline. Perhaps there is scope to add Sampras to his coaching staff, as is the fashion, so that we might once more delight in the volleyed winner.

The first set comfortably met the standard of the Wimbledon matinee, a pulsating contest of fearsome hitting. With both men imperious on serve, it was clear from the outset that a tiebreak would be required to split them.

Dimitrov faced the first set point against at 5-6 and, after drilling the serve, won the rally with a cross-court forehand on the run to level at six apiece. At 6-7 it was all on Johnson, who survived when Dimitrov chipped his return into the net.

And so it went, back and forth, until Johnson at 8-9 found the Dimitrov return too hot to handle and planted the ball into the net to send his opponent into a fist-pumping frenzy. The spell broken, Johnson lost concentration and serve in the opening game of the second set to hand the Bulgarian control. The set went by in a comparative blur, half the 51 minutes it took to decide the first.

We were back in the coconut shy to decide the third, Johnson blinking first with an over-hit forehand on the fourth point. Dimitrov did not look back, taking the tie-break 7-2.

“There are a couple of things I need to tune up,” said Dimitrov, who faces Richard Gasquet next. “I like my chances and with every match I’m raising my game.

“I’ve had a few ups and downs since last year but I’ve learned a lot. Everything was rolling in my favour. That was great, but sometimes it comes down to a few points here and there.”

Defending champion Novak Djokovic proceeded in an orderly manner into the third round at the expense Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen, who retires at the end of the season. His final match at Wimbledon ended 6-4,  6-2, 6-3.

Big-serving Milos Raonic beat veteran Tommy Haas in four sets – 6-0, 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 – without convincing he has the all-round game to challenge the elite. His serve was unanswerable for two sets, but once Haas picked up the rhythm Raonic began to creak and he was relieved to avoid a fifth set.

Injury got the better of fifth seed Kei Nishikori, who pulled out with a calf injury before his second-round match against Santiago Giraldo of Colombia. “I thought it would be OK but the last match in the fifth set I was hurting too much,” Nishikori said. “In the warm-up today it was hurting again, so I decided not to play.”