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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, November 19, 2017

LONDON—Grigor Dimitrov declared his mission statement chasing the dream.

Collapsing to the court in an eruption of euphoria, Dimitrov realized it in an emotional embrace.

Dimitrov: Inspiration in Imperfection

In a spirited championship match, Dimitrov defeated David Goffin, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, completing an inspired run capturing the biggest title of his career at the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals.

On Dimitrov’s fifth championship point, Goffin nudged a backhand volley into the top of the tape sending Dimitrov splashing to the court pinching back tears as fans bobbed up and down in the aisles waving Bulgarian flags.




"It just came out," Dimitrov said of his tears of joy. "Simple as that. I don't know, it's a special—it's a special event."

The first Bulgarian qualifier in tournament history won all five matches he played in London, collecting 1,500 rankings points for completing an undefeated title run as well as a champion’s check of $2.549 million.

The 26-year-old Dimitrov claimed his eighth career championship—including his fourth of the season—and will wake up tomorrow ranked a career-high No. 3.

The gritty Goffin became the sixth man in history to knock off world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and second-ranked Roger Federer in the same tournament. And while he didn’t lift the title trophy, Goffin pushed Dimitrov to the very last shot today.

Wearing black kinesiology tape snaking his left knee, Goffin delivered some of his most ambitious tennis of his career throughout this week and was the aggressor for much of this final.

“I think after this week I’m a better player mentally,” said Goffin, who will finish the season ranked a career-high No. 7 after leading Belgium against host France in next weekend's Davis Cup final. “Obviously mentally, but also physically. It was tough.

“I proved to myself that I can do it. I proved to myself that I’m in the right place… So I’m proud of what I achieved, even if I’m disappointed about the final. I gave everything. I have no regrets after the final.”

If you weren’t a Goffin fan before this week began, you should be now. Blown out by Dimitrov, 6-0, 6-2, on Wednesday night, Goffin pressed the issue from the first ball tonight and finished with more winners—37 to 20—than the world No. 6.

A capacity crowd of 17,800 that included former world No. 1 players Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander as well as soccer star David Beckham, drawing one of the biggest roars of the night when his face flashed across the giant screens, was engaged from the start.

This was the first Nitto ATP Finals title match between two first-time qualifiers in the 48-year-history of the tournament.

The pair combined for three straight breaks to start the match before the seventh-seeded Belgian crashed consecutive aces for 3-1. Goffin would eventually extend to 4-2 before Dimitrov dialed in his strokes reeling off five of the next six games to build a one-set lead.

Transitioning from defense to offense effectively, Dimitrov won 12 of 16 trips to the net and dug in and defended with vigor to draw critical errors in crucial stages of the decider.

Failure to find his first serve cost Goffin the opening set.

Sharper serving—and his skill keeping the ball moving corner-to-corner—sparked his second-set charge.

Goffin won 21 of 26 points played on his serve, including 14 of 15 on his first delivery, banging his way back into the match with some bold stretches of first-strike tennis.

Dotting the corners of the service box—and stirring in some timely serve-and-volleys against the Bulgarian’s chip return—Goffin stamped successive love holds to start the second set.

Bolting a backhand off the line, Goffin erased break point in the sixth game. Stinging a 116 mph ace down the T—his second ace of the game—Goffin held for 3-all.

The Dimitrov first serve is a weapon, but he can cough up double faults in bunches under pressure. Opening the seventh game with a pair of double faults, the Bulgarian fell into a double break point hole and could not escape as Goffin slid a forehand down the line breaking for 4-3.

This time, he kept a firm grip on the lead hammering his seventh ace to level after 98 minutes as Dimitrov slipped into increasingly passive patterns behind the baseline.

Dimitrov drilled an ace and a churning kick serve to erase a pair of break points in the opening game of the decider.

Withstanding some fierce baseline pressure from an opponent straddling the baseline and robbing him of reaction time, Dimitrov fended off four break points in all navigating an 11-minute hold to open the final set that was critical.

"I knew that David is going to try something new," Dimitrov said. "He had to be aggressive in order so he doesn't let me play my game. That was very obvious from the first point. Even broke me in the first game. I knew how things would kind of go.

"I really had to dig deep, especially in that first set, which I thought was the key.In the third set I just felt that I could have done obviously a few things different.I got to be a little bit more aggressive and that was the break."

Stepping into the court, Dimitrov drew an error for a second break point. Goffin’s trusty two-handed backhand down the line—his signature shot—slid wide as Dimitrov broke for 4-2 sending his mother, Maria, springing from her seat exhorting him to finish the job.

Poking a short forehand volley, the Bulgarian backed up the break for 5-2.




A jolting backhand pass brought Dimitrov to triple championship point.

Goffin wasn’t done yet. The lithe Belgian blasted a backhand crosscourt to save the first and ripped his 10th ace to save the second. Dimitrov netted a forehand on the third championship point tugging at the sleeve of his shirt as if trying to keep his arm loose beneath it.

Fighting through a demanding hold for 3-5, the stubborn Belgian waved his arms in the air exhorting fans to make more noise and they answered spiking with shouts.

On his fifth championship point, Dimitrov sealed a dramatic victory when Goffin’s volley flirted with the tape and crawled back on his side. After arising from the court, Dimitrov hurdled the side wall and embraced his parents.

London, the city where Dimitrov reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon and won his first grass-court title at Queen’s Club, may be the launching pad for Dimitrov’s next dream mission: Winning a Grand Slam title.

"Of course, one of my main goals is to win a Grand Slam tournament. This has always been, again, a dream of mine," said Dimitrov, gulping a bottle of coke in his post-match press conference. "Now slowly I think this thing is getting there. I think I've had good results in the past, but now, as I said, I need to be even more consistent on those kind of events, and in the same time raise up my level on occasions like this.

"Obviously, this is a great, unbelievable achievement for me, yes. But, yeah, I just still have a lot to give. I want to perform better and better."

 

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