ATP Cincinnati: Grigor Dimitrov advances to first Masters 1000 final
Grigor Dimitrov celebrates a point during his semifinal win. Photo: Noel Alberto

After years of high expectations, Grigor Dimitrov is on the brink of taking a huge step towards realizing his potential after advancing to his first-ever Masters 1000 final at the Western and Southern Open. The Bulgarian was given everything he could handle by home-favourite John Isner, but in the battle of consistent servers, Dimitrov was able to hold his nerve in the key moments, edging a pair of tiebreaks to book his place in the final with a 7-6(3), 7-6(10) victory.

Dimitrov comes up big in tiebreak

As expected, opportunities for the returners were few and far between in the opening set. After both men cruised through the first five games, it was Isner who had the opportunity to draw first blood as Dimitrov seemed to be struggling with his backhand. A big forehand from the big American drew a backhand wide to set up double break point, but Dimitrov turned to his forehand to bail him out, twice cracking big inside-out forehands to draw backhand errors, erasing the break points and holding.

John Isner hits a forehand during the semifinal in Cincinnati. Photo: Noel Alberto
John Isner hits a forehand during the semifinal in Cincinnati. Photo: Noel Alberto

That would be the only sniff of a break for either player in the set, which went to a tiebreak. After the first four points went with serve, Dimitrov caught Isner flat-footed in the midcourt and ripped a Federer-like backhand passing shot up the line to claim the minibreak. That lone return point would prove to be the difference in the opening set, as the seventh seed cruised on his own serve for the remainder of the tiebreak, taking it 7-3 after Isner sent a backhand wide on the first set point.

Epic tiebreaks sends Dimitrov through

The lead very nearly evaporated in the opening game of the second set, as Dimitrov needed several deuces to hold in his opening game. The normal rhythm returned after that, as both men cruised through their next four service games. Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Isner found himself under threat. Some errors put him in a 0-30 hold, with another giving Dimitrov his first break point, which was also a match point, of the match. But as he often does, Isner served his way out of the jam.

Dimitrov pumps his fist during his win over Isner. Photo: Noel Alberto
Dimitrov pumps his fist during his win over Isner. Photo: Noel Alberto

Once again, a tiebreak was needed to decide the match. After the pair exchanged early minibreaks, both men began to up their level. Isner would reclaim a minibreak with an on-the-run forehand passing shot winner. He held a set point at 6-5, but Dimitrov saved it. Then it was the Bulgarian’s turn to hold a match point, but it was saved with a perfect serve and volley. The level of shot making was off the charts from both men as they continued to exchange set and match points. Finally at 10-11, after saving two match points but missing three set points, Isner would dump a shot into the net to send Dimitrov into his first Masters 1000 final.

By the numbers

The serving in this match was outstanding, as both men hit double digits in aces (14 for Isner, 10 for Dimitrov), saved the few break points they faced (Isner saved one, Dimitrov saved two), and won the majority of their service points. Isner won 83 percent of his first serve points to Dimitrov’s 75 percent, but the Bulgarian was slightly better on second serves, winning 70 percent to his opponent’s 61 percent. In the end, only a couple of points in the tiebreaks decided the match. Dimitrov only won six more total points.

Dimitrov will be the higher ranked player in the final, as he will meet one of two unseeded players: Nick Kyrgios or David Ferrer.