In the third match on Centre Court, seventh seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov takes on Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, who won his first career title earlier in the year. Both men are having fine years, and with the draw looking open, will view this as a fine opportunity to go even deeper at a Masters 1000 event. The pair have performed well in Cincinnati before, so an entertaining match should await.
Dimitrov and Sugita have met just once in their careers. That match came last year in Canada and was a closely fought battle. Sugita had the upper hand early on, taking the first set 7-5 after breaking the Bulgarian’s serve late on. Sugita was pressing hard in the second set, and Dimitrov had to scramble to reach a tie break. He managed to, but Sugita drew first blood. Up 5-3 he seemed to have the Bulgarian on a string, only for Dimitrov to pull off a terrific forehand lob to keep himself in contention. The match turned on that point, and Dimitrov took the tie break and then the decider.
One area that will help Dimitrov is his advantage in experience. Sugita has won one title on the Tour, in Antalya, but that aside his experience of tennis’ highest level is lacking. He had only 26 wins on tour coming into Cincinnati and is competing in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final. In contrast, Dimitrov is six times a titlist on the tour, including twice this year. He is also competing in his eighth Masters 1000 quarter-final, of which he has won three of the previous seven. The world number 11 is unlikely to be overawed by the occasion where the Japanese might just be.
Path to the quarter-finals
Dimitrov enjoyed a first round bye as the seventh seed. That saw him begin against Spanish serve and volleyer Feliciano Lopez, who defeated him at Queen’s Club this year. Dimitrov got his revenge against the Spaniard, defeating him in straight sets 7-6 6-4. Next up for the Bulgarian was Juan Martin del Potro, the US Open champion in 2009. The Argentine may not be the player he was when he claimed his only Slam, but he is still a dangerous opponent. And he was one with a 5-0 head-to-head record against Dimitrov. But he started slowly and Dimitrov punished him, breaking him early and holding that advantage to take the opener.
Del Potro fought back in the second set, breaking Dimitrov in his first service game. But serving at 4-2, the Argentinian’s first serve deserted him, and he clawed his way back into the match. Del Potro again pushed and came close to taking the set with Dimitrov serving down 4-5. He fashioned three set points but could not take them. With the temperature rising Del Potro began to flag, and a doctor was called at 6-5. He bravely insisted on finishing the match, losing the next game to go down 3-6 5-7.
Sugita, ranked 48th, began against American number one Jack Sock. He upset Sock in straight sets, taking the match 6-4 7-5. Sugita’s next opponent was Joao Sousa of Portugal, who has had a disappointing season. But Sousa has begun to turn his form around and defeated Kyle Edmund in the first round after coming through qualifying. Sugita, however, got the best of the Portuguese despite dropping the first set. After winning a tight second set in a tie break, he raced away with the decider to complete a 3-6 7-6 6-1 win. Sugita completed his third victory of the week with a triumph over rising Russian Karen Khachanov. Despite dropping the first set in a whitewashed tie break, Sugita responded magnificently, taking the next two sets 6-3 6-3 to down the Russian.
How do they match up?
Dimitrov is, in many ways, one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation. He has an incredibly wide selection of shots and is also a terrific mover. What he lacks at times, is a clearly defined gameplan and a major weapon. That can lead him to struggle as he tries too much or is indecisive. Sugita is principally a baseliner. He is comfortable off both forehand and backhand, the latter of which is more consistent by far than Dimitrov’s.
Both men are excellent defenders, and how they are able to negate each others’ offensive capabilities will likely play a key role in the match. Sugita, particularly, has less power to call upon than the Bulgarian, so for him, it will be important to prevent Dimitrov getting ahead early in the rallies.
Dimitrov and Sugita had a very close match last year but this time it should be more comfortable for Dimitrov. Sugita has done brilliantly to reach the quarter-finals, particularly after battling through Sousa and Khachanov. But Dimitrov, who has improved substantially since Cincinnati last year, should ultimately have too much for the Japanese, both in terms of talent and experience. Dimitrov in two tight sets.
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