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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Monday, April 1, 2024

Few champions have experienced Big 3 brilliance quite like Grigor Dimitrov. 

Former world No. 3 Dimitrov has faced the Big 3 in major matches—and has both scar tissue and lessons learned to show for it.

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Dimitrov owns a combined 3-33 career record vs. Big 3 champions, including a 1-14 record vs. Rafael Nadal, a 1-12 mark against Novak Djokovic and a 1-7 head-to-head vs. Roger Federer.

So who is the toughest Big 3 champion to face at the absolute peak of his powers?

It's the Swiss Maestro, says Dimitrov.

Some champions force you to dig down deep, prime Federer was so formidable, he made the Bulgarian want to dig an escape hatch out on court.

"I know for me I was going to say the toughest player that I have played at his absolute prime was Roger," Dimitrov told the media in Miami after bowing to Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-1 in the Miami Open final. "Just too funny, actually. I remember a few times even at Wimbledon, once I remember it I wanted to dig a hole and disappear (smiling).

"I haven't had that feeling yet against anyone, so I will leave it at that, I guess. Yeah, probably that's going to be the player I felt like, yeah, I suffered the most with."

The 32-year-old Dimitrov defeated Federer in their final meeting in the 2019 US Open quarterfinals. The pair have since reunited as bandmates in the One-Handed Backhand Boys Band.

When Dimitrov captured his biggest career title at the 2017 ATP Finals at London's O2 Arena, both Federer and Nadal were in the elite eight-man field though Dimitrov did not face either iconic champion en route to his undefeated sweep of the title. Nadal withdrew after bowing to David Goffin in his opener and Goffin upset Federer in the semifinals.

In a classic clash vs. the king of clay, Dimitrov pushed Nadal to five sets in a 2017 Australian Open marathon match.

Driven to the brink in a pulsating four hour, 56-minute clash, Nadal fought off a dynamic Dimitrov, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4, to reach his 24th Grand Slam final in Melbourne.

World No. 1 Djokovic and Dimitrov are good friends and sometime practice partners.

The Serbian superstar fended off Dimitrov in a dramatic four-set 2014 Wimbledon semifinal when the Bulgarian was dating Maria Sharapova, who sat in his support box for the match.

While some might point to the Bulgarian's ignominious history against the Big 3 as a curse of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Dimitrov says it's actually the exact opposite: He feels blessed to have battled the game's three greatest champions and for the lessons learned from those experiences.

“Totally the opposite, actually. Totally the opposite. Very lucky,” Dimitrov told the media in Miami.

“How often you say I played in an era against the best players and you have beaten them all?” Dimitrov said, adding that he is saddened by the impending absence of the Big 4 more than he ever was by their presence.

“Personally, not having these guys around, it's a little sad,” he said. “I don't want to play them, don't get me wrong, at the moment, but it's kind of sad. I love watching them play. I love competing against them, and you can always learn something.

“I think throughout the years I have had so many quarterfinal matches and third-, fourth-round matches where I had to play against them. But that also maybe shaped me to have that mental toughness and to do certain things differently at that point in my career, like them.”

Photo credit: Brisbane International Facebook