In a contest between two closely matched gladiators, timing is often everything for the holder of the lighter weapon. So it proved on Friday at the French Open bullring when the rapier of Grigor Dimitrov came up against the bludgeon of Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta. Supremely gifted, the Bulgarian 11th seed has a stylish all-round game showcased by a silky smooth single-handed backhand, which was to prove his downfall in a 7-5 6-3 6-4 defeat in the circular arena of court one.
Nicknamed ‘Baby Fed’ on the basis of that shot, comparisons with incomparable Swiss master Roger Federer have dogged Dimitrov ever since.
Now 26, he has a career-high ranking of eight and semi-finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open to his credit – eye-catching statistics but, for those who have touted him as a grand slam winner-in-waiting, evidence of unfulfilled potential.
On Friday, bidding to make the last 16 of the claycourt major for the first time, he looked fit, sharp and focused as he raced to a 4-0 lead.
But the 20th-seeded Spaniard Carreno Busta, pummelling groundstrokes deep into both corners, turned the match in a 20-point sixth game, winning it on his second break point after Dimitrov failed to covert four chances of his own.
That seemed to melt the steel in the Bulgarian’s game, and he speared a backhand into the net to concede the first set and the second and the third.
In all, unforced errors on his signature shot cost him 29 points – more than Carreno Busta’s combined total for backhand and forehand.
The win took the Spaniard into the fourth round of a grand slam for the first time where he will face Canadian fifth seed Milos Raonic.