Grigor Dimitrov believes that the addition of Andre Agassi to his coaching team can make him a better player – and a better person. The 27-year-old Bulgarian has started his 2019 campaign with renewed confidence after spending four weeks with Agassi during the close season in the former world No 1’s home city of Las Vegas.
“Forget about the tennis for a moment,” Dimitrov said here on Thursday after a practice session ahead of next week’s Australian Open. “The description of ‘role model’ hardly does Andre justice. I really can’t find the words to describe how amazing a person he is and how much he has brought to me in my life.”
Dimitrov turned to Agassi, who had a spell coaching Novak Djokovic, towards the end of last year after a disappointing season in which he had failed to build on the big strides he had made in 2017.
Having climbed to a career-high position of No 3 in the world rankings after winning the biggest title of his career at the 2017 season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in London, Dimitrov dropped 16 places during a frustrating 2018 campaign in which he failed to reach any finals. He lost to Britain’s Kyle Edmund in the quarter-finals here 12 months ago.
Dimitrov and his coach, Dani Vallverdu, who used to work with Andy Murray, decided in the autumn that they needed some help. “We knew that at some point we would need somebody with a bit more experience, someone who had gone through it all,” Dimitrov told The Independent.
“I knew there was only one person like that who I could completely put my trust. That was Andre, so we started talking. I had known Andre since I was 14 or 15, though never as well as I’ve got to know him recently. When we started working together I totally trusted him from day one.
“It’s an amazing relationship. It’s nice to have someone who is at such a high intellectual level but has also been through what you’re going through on the court. It’s good when he speaks to you and you realise: ‘I know that feeling.’ I appreciate that a lot.”
He added: “For sure he’s brought a lot to my game already. All the team are happy with him. Dani is very happy with him. The fitness coach and the physio are all on the same page.”
The world No 21 said that Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf, had gone out of their way to help him in Las Vegas. “It was a great four weeks,” Dimitrov said. “Andre and his whole family were so kind to me. I spent pretty much every single day with them. I’m just a better person as a result.
“I don’t want to name any one thing in particular that he has been helping me with. It’s everything - from being more caring, to helping me to discover myself as a person.
“Tennis is great but it doesn’t necessarily define me. I want to do way more off the court. Tennis is a great platform for me to do well and for sure I want to be No 1, to win Slams, but there are more things that I want to do. For me he’s one of the best role models not only for the sport but also that the world could ever have. He has done so much outside of the court.”
Dimitrov, who was speaking in his role as a global ambassador for Haagen-Dazs, said that he had also been tapping into Agassi’s wealth of on-court experience.
“He’s gone through all those moments that you go through as a tennis player – times when you’re anxious or when you have to make decisions on the court,” he said.
“We all know how to play tennis. We all know how to hit the ball. It’s more just about those details – managing all those early rounds and just managing yourself to make sure you’re ready for whatever is coming up next.”
Had he been hitting with Agassi? “Of course,” Dimitrov said. “I also hit once with both him and Steffi on the other side of the net. I was pretty tight the first two minutes. They’re both unbelievable ball-strikers from the first hit. It was pure joy.”
Dimitrov began his 2019 campaign last week in Brisbane, where he won two matches before losing to Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals.
“I was pretty pleased with the matches that I played in Brisbane,” he said. “I haven’t played many matches in the last few months so that helped. I was happy because everything checked out for me on a good level physically and mentally.”
In his last seven tournaments in 2018 Dimitrov played a total of just 12 matches and won two matches in a row only once after the French Open. He lost to Stan Wawrinka in the first round at both Wimbledon and the US Open.
However, Dimitrov insists that even that fallow run had its benefits. “I just actually felt that in the last few months I've learned a lot about myself,” he said. “I learned things that I need to do better, things that I could improve off the court.”
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