Last night, it was the turn of the Serb to fight back from a set down and survive a final set tie-break and match point to clinch the Apia International in Sydney, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6.
What proved to be a joyful result for Troicki—for he was defending the Sydney title that had been not only his first title since 2010 but his first final since 2011—was, in contrast, a big disappointment for the 24-year-old Bulgarian. This was Dimitrov’s first final since Stockholm in 2014, the year he broke into the top 10 with his first three titles.
Last year, the Bulgarian star suffered multiple first and second-round losses to slip well outside the top 20, amid a parting of the ways with his coach of two years Roger Rasheed and with his girlfriend Maria Sharapova.
But there were signs late in 2015 of a turn-around after he took Rafael Nadal to three sets in Basel and beat Marin Cilic at the Paris Masters.
In Brisbane last week, Dimitrov not only beat No5 seed Gilles Simon before his tough Troicki win but he went on to take Roger Federer to three close sets in the quarters.
His loss in Sydney may be all the harder to handle because of the chances that came and went during what may be the best set of tennis played so far this season, a pulsating 83 minutes in which he converted only one of nine break points.
Dimitrov dominated the 28-minute first set, served well, and broke twice for 6-2. But Troicki, who reached No12 back in 2011, bounced back to produce not just some of best tennis this season but his best since reaching his only final of 2015 in Stuttgart. Back then, he went on to lose the openers in eight tournaments, and lose in the second round of two more, but Troicki here he showed admirable focus and consistency against some strong opposition.
After blasting through the second set with three breaks in 25 minutes, 6-1, both men showed what fine tennis they could produce.
By 3-3 in the final set, every game had gone to deuce and the set was already 40 minutes old. In the eight-minute eighth game, Dimitrov tried to up his aggressive tactics, came to the net, and made a blistering forehand winner for break points. He would regret his missed chance.
Troicki now pushed inside the court for a winning forehand. The Serb ended a long baseline 30-stroke rally with a winning backhand for two break points and Dimitrov put a tired backhand into the net. Troicki would serve for the title.
But now he too faced 15-40, saved one break point with an ace, but saw a backhand winner shoot down the line to restore parity, 5-5.
The set was now over an hour old and each had run over 3km in this decider alone. It would, rightly, have to go to tie-break.
Dimitrov went down 1-3 courtesy of two errors but compensated with a huge volley winner and they changed ends at 3-3. A 27-shot rally and it was 4-4, and it stayed on serve via near flawless tennis, a lunging volley get, and great serving. Appropriately enough, it finally took a superb winner to conclude one last gripping rally, a cross-court backhand pass onto the sideline, to determine the Viktor, 7-6(7).
He fell to the court in delight, and Dimitrov walked the length of the arena to shake hands with the Sydney champion: The final gesture in a match not only showcasing fine tennis but good sportsmanship.
Dimitrov’s disappointment, though, was palpable: “Been a while since I won a final… pretty disappointed of course… [But] I’m giving all the credit to him today. “I’m happy to have that feeling back; happy to feel those little butterflies again. That’s the most important thing for me right now.”
Troicki was just as gracious in victory: “What a match! I guess I was just a bit more lucky in the end.”
He went on: “One ball decided the match. It was my favourite shot of all at the end to win it. So many times that shot brought me a lot of happiness. That’s how I won the Davis Cup title, my last point… I’ve got to admit it’s stressful. This was I believe my eighth final, and I’ve never had it this close, this tight.”
After a difficult week of rain storms, delays and a concertinaed schedule, the Sydney fans got what they deserved—a great match played in great spirit, and the icing on the cake was the presence of 81-year-old, four-time Australian Open champion Ken Rosewall, who awarded the trophies on the very court that bears his name.
Dimitrov and Troicki now head to Melbourne to try and replicate their Sydney form, and the Bulgarian in particular has a fast turn-around: He plays Monday afternoon, and could meet the man who beat him in Brisbane, Federer, in the third round. Troicki is drawn in the quarter headed by Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, but his first seed could be Milos Raonic.
Another big-hitter in this section is Jack Sock, who having beaten both Kevin Anderson and David Ferrer in Auckland, was forced to retire in the final with illness, handing the title to Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-1, 1-0.
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, teamed for the first time this season, went from a semi-run in Doha last week to the title in Sydney. The duo came from 0-5 down in the second set tie-break to win eight of the next nine points, 6-3, 7-6(6).
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