Grigor Dimitrov filled the space left at the summit of the ATP tour as he captured the year-end Nitto ATP Finals and cemented his place as the number three player in the world.
The Bulgarian’s success in London followed on from his maiden Masters 1000 triumph in Cincinnati and also meant he ended the season with four ATP titles to his name and at a career-high number number three in the rankings.
Dimitrov became the first player outside of the Big Four since Nikolay Davydenko in 2009 to capture the Nitto ATP Finals trophy and his triumph in England was undoubtedly the highlight of his 2017.
He battled through a Round Robin group which included David Goffin, Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal (replaced by Pablo Carreno-Busta) unbeaten before he battled past Jack Sock in the semifinals and Goffin in the final.
The Bulgarian displayed tremendous fighting spirit in the latter two matches, roaring back from a set down against the American before holding his nerve in the deciding set against Goffin.
He perhaps developed such steeliness after breaking his Masters 1000 hoodoo in August, capitalizing on a depleted field to win the Western and Southern Open.
He did not drop a set all week en route to his triumph and remarkably only dropped serve once – in third round against Juan Martin del Potro.
John Isner was dispatched after two lengthy tie-breaks and Nick Kyrgios, who enjoyed a productive week himself, was dismantled in the final, 6-3, 7-5.
It was Dimitrov’s most impressive run since his display at the Australian Open at the start of the year, where he reached the semifinal and pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets.
He was producing lights-out tennis to begin the year, prevailing at the Brisbane International where he was forced to beat three top 10 players.
The Bulgarian carried his momentum to Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year, producing an incredible performance against Goffin in the quarterfinals to set-up a meeting with Nadal.
He was undone in the deciding set against the Spaniard but he did not have to wait long to get his hands on another piece of silverware. And it tasted even sweeter when he finally reigned supreme in Bulgaria by winning the Sofia Open.
After surviving a nervy opener with Jerzy Janowicz he blasted through the rest of the week without too many scares to win his second ATP 250 titles in as many months.
However, doubts persist about the Bulgarian’s clay court capabilities and, although small improvements were made in 2018, it was still a thoroughly disappointing spring.
He lost from a set up against Jan-Lennard Struff in Monte Carlo and he bizarrely blew five match points in his round of 16 encounter with Dominic Thiem at the Mutua Madrid Masters.
Del Potro dismissed the 26-year-old in the second round of the Italian Open before he recorded his first two wins at the French Open. His run came to end when he was ousted by Pablo Carreno-Busta in straight sets, despite leading by a double break in the opening frame.
His clay court swing succeeded a Indian Wells and Miami double where he won only twice. His hopes for Wimbledon, meanwhile, were looking up after he reached the semifinals at Queen’s and he breezed through his first three matches at SW19 in straight sets.
But he surrendered meekly to eventual champion Roger Federer and disappointing showings at Grand Slams have become a disturbing norm for the Bulgarian.
Expectations for the US Open were high after his win in Cincinnati but he was dumped out in straight sets by Andrey Rublev in the second round.
It is an area where Dimitrov will be eager to improve and it is the logical next step for the new world number three.
He showed in two separate meetings with Nadal in Asia that he can hang with the best, especially on hard courts, and the doubts about his mentality were eased with his flawless showing at the World Tour Finals and his performance in the final of the Western and Southern Open.
The return of perennial top 10 players in Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic will sharpen the Bulgarian’s focus and it is unlikely he will stay at number three with so many points to defend in the opening two months of the season.
His partnership with Dani Vallverdu has blossomed in 2017 and he will fancy his chances in Melbourne with a higher seeding. But first, he will be hoping to defend his title in Brisbane.
The consistency was perhaps lacking but we witnessed the peak of the Bulgarian’s abilities on several occasions this year and it was a frightening sight. He took advantage of the opportunities afforded to him and it will stand him in good stead for 2018.