Last summer, Dimitrov found the right guidance in Dani Vallverdu, a former coach of Murray and Tomas Berdych. Vallverdu said he had a “very honest chat” with Dimitrov before agreeing to work with him. But in their seven months together, Dimitrov is back in the top 20.
In the first week of this season, Dimitrov beat three top-10 opponents — Dominic Thiem, Raonic and Kei Nishikori — on the way to a title in Brisbane, Australia, which has contributed to his 10-0 record thus far.
Although Vallverdu acknowledged he was surprised by the sterling start, he chalked up the rapid improvement to Dimitrov’s willingness to work tirelessly.
“I didn’t know I could push him this hard,” Vallverdu said. “I was always a bit concerned whether I could push him, physically and mentally, as far as I’m taking him now.”
Dimitrov said he was relishing the battle more than he had before.
“Right now, I’m enjoying the fight, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m enjoying to run down every ball. I think also when you feel physically good and you feel well to kind of get into a match, I mean, that gives you a different perspective as soon as you get out on the court. Whoever you play, you know you’re going to get your chance. That’s already an advantage before you even step on the court.”
Dimitrov frequently took advantage of opportunities against Goffin, breaking the Belgian in six of his 13 service games.
In the English portion of his brief postmatch news conference, Goffin used the phrase “really solid” five times to describe Dimitrov. Goffin said he was describing his opponent’s tenacity more than his physicality.
“His improvement is mentally; last few months, he proved that, mentally, he was much better than in the past,” Goffin said. “He didn’t give any points. He was really solid. So I think that’s his biggest improvement.”
The affable Dimitrov has not always been known for his ferocity. He was better known for his high-profile romances with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and the singer Nicole Scherzinger, and an earnest and smoldering presence on social media.
“You guys get the nice side of him,” Vallverdu said. “He’s definitely a fighter, and he has that inside of him. That’s what I’m trying to get out of his insides. It’s nice to see that I think it’s showing. I agree, he’s an extremely nice guy — but I would say he’s more of a fighter than a nice guy.”
Dimitrov, who emphasized simplicity as a key to his recent successes, said he had a clearer focus now than earlier in his career.
“I think I have straighter priorities right now,” he said. “I know what I want from myself as soon as I come to a tournament. I know why I worked.”
Nadal, 30, is regarded as the paragon of intensity within tennis. After his match on Wednesday, in which Raonic failed to convert six set points in the second set to even the match, Raonic said Nadal was “fighting well, which has always been his strongest attribute.”
But with injuries piling up, Nadal’s ability to summon his imposing best became less reliable. A 14-time major champion, Nadal had gone 10 Grand Slam events without a semifinal appearance. Before that run, he had never had a Grand Slam semifinal drought of more than three tournaments since winning his first major title at the 2005 French Open.
Nadal said he was excited just to be back in the final rounds of the most important events.
He took about 10 weeks off at the end of last year to recuperate from a wrist injury, and he has often been hurt by tentative play during his struggles. He resolved to change after reviewing video of his loss to the big-serving Raonic this month in Brisbane with his coaches Toni Nadal and Carlos Moyá and seeing that he was standing “six, seven meters behind the baseline” to return serve.
“We know that we needed to change that,” Nadal said. “Before the match, we were talking about trying to combine, you know, returning sometimes very close to the baseline and sometimes back. But the real thing is I felt well from inside, and I felt that I was putting some pressure on him. So I decided to stay in almost all the time.”
Nadal said of Dimitrov, “Everybody thinks he’s a potential winner.” When asked about a possible final against his longtime rival Federer, who plays in a semifinal on Thursday against Stan Wawrinka, Nadal said he was looking only to his own semifinal on Friday.
“I have a very tough match against Dimitrov,” said Nadal, who is 7-1 against Dimitrov. “Whatever happens on the other side of the draw, I think is great for tennis that Roger is there again after an injury, after a lot of people talk about always the same things, that, probably, he will never be back.”
He added, almost in passing, “I am happy to be there, too.”