2016 Stockholm Open: Grigor Dimitrov vs Kevin Anderson

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It’s meeting number seven between Grigor Dimitrov and Kevin Anderson as they clash for a spot in the If Stockholm Open semifinals. This will be their first match since 2014 when Dimitrov won at the Rogers Cup in three sets.

(2) Grigor Dimitrov vs Kevin Anderson
Dimitrov got away to a comfortable start in Stockholm with a 6-3, 6-2 drubbing of qualifier Jurgen Zopp on Thursday. Dimitrov took advantage of some sub-par serving from the Estonian to break him three times on six chances. The 2nd seed cruised in the opening set without facing a break point, but then needed to save four in the second set. Still, Dimitrov won 78 percent of his first serve points and only went to his second serve 17 times, winning ten of those points. Dimitrov reflected on the match afterwards saying it was good to get the first win of the tournament, but that he knows Anderson will be dangerous, saying “I have to play every day now, so I must stay focused. Kevin is an extremely good player, serves unbelievably well and as it’s indoors it will come down to a matter of a few points.”

As for Anderson, the tall South African shook off an injury concern that forced him out of doubles play on Wednesday to eliminate Ryan Harrison in straights 7-6 (8), 6-4. Anderson used his big serve to his advantage as he faced a lone break point that helped him save the opening set at 5-6. He would go on to work through the nervy tiebreak to secure that set. Anderson won 73 percent of his first serve points for the match and 70 percent on second serve. The American qualifier wasn’t far off from Anderson, but was broken critically in the second set that allowed Anderson the winning margin. It was a good follow up win for Anderson who rallied in his opener to beat a fading Marcos Baghdatis 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. Anderson had been broken four times in that match, but looking better against Harrison.

Dimitrov leads the head-to-head against Anderson with five wins in six tries. The last two meetings came two years ago on hard courts in 2014 with Dimitrov prevailing in Acapulco and then Montreal. It took three sets both times. In fact, since Dimitrov’s inaugural win over Anderson in 2011 at Eastbourne on grass, Anderson has won at least a set off him even in defeat. Their only meeting indoors was in San Jose in 2012 and that marked Anderson’s lone victory over the Bulgarian 2-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3). Tiebreaks have played a big role between the two with seven of the seven played in 17 sets. Dimitrov edges those, 4-3.

2016 has been very different for both these players. Dimitrov has found some good form the last few months after a lackluster beginning to the season. Since Wimbledon ended, Dimitrov is now 18-8 with his third final of the year mixed into that in Beijing. Those 18 wins in the last three months are nearly half of his total for the season (37). Anderson meanwhile has battled injuries and inconsistency to just a 17-19 record this year. The inconsistency has been on display during the Far East swing after the U.S. Open where he made the quarterfinals in Chengdu, but then failed to get past the second round in both Tokyo and Shanghai.

Whether it is directly related to the shoulder issues that Anderson fought through this year or not, the South African has seen a reduction in the efficiency of his serve this season. The numbers point to two percent drops in his win rate for both first and second serves over last season, as well as a two percent dip in break points held. It doesn’t sound like much, but those key points that make up a number like that can often be momentum swingers in a match. During his rise and surprise into the quarterfinals at the U.S Open last year, Anderson’s serve was a massive weapon with his forehand next in line. This year, those two weapons just have not packed quite the punch of 2015.

For Dimitrov, a split from coach Franko Davin and new union with Dani Vallverdu seems to have fixed what ailed the Bulgarian. This week’s 2nd seed has credited Vallverdu greatly with his turn around and perhaps Dimitrov’s own willingness to listen again to a coach he trusts has been the big difference. He’ll feel comfortable about this match-up with Anderson, but knows that many of their matches have been decided by a few key points. That means Dimitrov will want to start off with solid serving to match Anderson. Although he admits freely that Anderson’s serve is a weapon on this surface, that weapon still has not seemed quite right from match to match. I think Dimitrov will have chances to break.

As for the ground stroke battle, Dimitrov brings so many different shots from both wings that it has been a burden on himself to pick the proper one to play at times. That has seemingly simplified under Vallverdu and the longer rallies would figure to benefit Dimitrov. Anderson’s forehand can be vicious and his double handed backhand has pop, but both have been more prone to errors this year. Anderson will prefer the baseline battles, where he will try to use his power advantage to push Dimitrov back. Dimitrov would do well to counter with creating some difficult angles and making Anderson show he has the agility to get around the court to those shots.

Although Anderson was able to prove fit enough against Harrison, I think the task against Dimitrov is tougher for him. He’ll be hoping his service issues ended in round one against Baghdatis as he’ll need to serve big to score an upset in this one. Dimitrov shouldn’t have a terribly difficult time matching Anderson serve for serve given his recent level, so that could see this one decided again late in sets or into tiebreaks. Dimitrov has excelled this season at 20-12 in breakers, while Anderson just now pushed his TB record to 11-11 with the set win over Harrison yesterday.

This tournament has also been a big boost to Dimitrov at this point in the season the last three years with two finals appearances and a quarterfinal showing last year. All signs point to Dimitrov edging this one, but he’ll need to take advantage in those key moments to get it done.

Prediction
Dimitrov wins in straight sets

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