In the first match on Philippe Chatrier of the 2018 French Open, fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov takes on Serbia’s Viktor Troicki for a place n the second round. Dimitrov’s favourite surface is certainly not the clay, and he managed just four wins on it last year. This season has seen an improvement, but the Bulgarian isn’t considered by many to be amongst the title favourites. Troicki will be hoping to take full advantage of his opponent’s clay court struggles. But who will come out on top?
Dimitrov and Troicki have met five times in their careers, including once before in the first round in Paris. Their first match, however, came six years ago in Basel in the first round. Dimitrov triumphed, including an audacious behind-the-back half-volley for good measure in a 6-2 6-3 win. He won their next match as well, coming back from a set down to win 5-7 7-6 6-2 in Brisbane in 2016. But when they met again in the Sydney final a week later, it was Troicki who won.
The Serbian came through a nail-biting three-setter to lift the third title of his career, winning it nine points to seven in the deciding set tiebreak. He levelled the head-to-head by winning another thriller, this time in the first round in Paris two years ago, where he knocked out the Bulgarian despite twice trailing by a set. However, in their most recent meeting, last season in Sofia, it was again Dimitrov was ascendant as he defeated Troicki 6-3 6-3 in the quarterfinals, going on to win the tournament.
Last time out
Grigor Dimitrov’s clay court revival, which had seen him reach the semifinals in Monte Carlo and the quarters in Barcelona, came to a grinding halt in the face of two tough first round draws in Madrid and Rome. In the former he faced an in-form Milos Raonic, who defeated him in three sets, 7-5 3-6 6-3. Dimitrov then lost to Kei Nishikori, who had earlier in the season made the final in Monte Carlo, despite winning the first set and leading by a break in both the second and third sets, 7-6 5-7 4-6.
Troicki’s results so far this clay court season have been generally disappointing for a player who was once ranked as high as 12th in the world. The Serbian has picked up a handful match wins, but early defeats have been the norm for him. His fitness is also a slight worry coming into Paris. The Serb played well to defeat Thomas Fabbiano 7-5 6-3 in the first round in Rome, but then was forced to retire ahead of his second round match with Frances Tiafoe of the United States.
How do they match up?
Dimitrov, unlike Federer with whom he is often compared, does not have a particularly large reservoir of natural power to call upon. The Bulgarian plays his best tennis when he can use the speed of the court to his advantage, playing quick tennis that requires excellent timing. It’s why when he’s at his best he can look irresistible, but why he is prone to early defeats. On clay, a surface that offers little reward to players like Dimitrov, the problem is exacerbated. For Dimitrov to win on the surface, he needs to be hitting the ball very well.
Troicki, being more of a power player, is more comfortable on the red dirt. The Serbian has a powerful first serve, and a very solid backhand. Indeed, he is in some regards a very similar player to the type epitomised by Marat Safin and evolved by Novak Djokovic. He shares the weakness that plagued Safin at times, an unreliable forehand. The Serbian’s technique often looks unwieldly, and that wing can at times cost him too many unforced errors.
Neither man enters this French Open in great form, and both have presumably tempered their expectations of what they can achieve at Roland Garros in light of that. But it will be Dimitrov who advances into at least the second round. The Bulgarian has showed he has enough quality to get past lower ranked opponents this year on the clay, and all four of his defeats have come at the hands of current or former top ten players. Dimitrov to advance after a four set battle.