2017 Mercedes Cup R2 Preview: Grigor Dimitrov vs Jerzy Janowicz

GRIGSJERZY

Grigor Dimitrov finally gets started at Stuttgart as he goes up against The Polish Burger-meister, Jerzy Janowicz. The Pole started his campaign this week with a three set victory over Andrey Kuznetsov.

(2) Grigor Dimitrov vs Jerzy Janowicz

Dimitrov makes a rare trip outside of England to start off his grass court season. Last year’s trip to Stuttgart was the Bulgarian’s first time playing somewhere other than Queen’s Club to start the grass court season since 2010. That was back when Dimitrov was still splitting time between Challengers at the ATP Tour. Last year, Dimitrov was dumped out in his opener by Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4, 6-2. He had a poor grass campaign overall, losing to Janko Tipsarevic in his Queen’s Club opener, before seeing the exit door in round three at Wimbledon.

Janowicz has been relatively healthy in 2017 and won a Challenger event earlier this season. His ranking is up to 155 and he’s ready for second round play. His win over Kuznetsov was his first main draw ATP win since February in Sofia, Bulgaria. Against Kuznetsov, the Pole was pretty solid. He staved off six of seven break chances, winning 77 percent of his first serve points and 55 percent off his second. He tallied five aces and five double faults. In the end, he would win just two more points overall than the Russian (91-89).

Jerzy Being Jerzy, Still Rebuilding Ranking

The match against Kuznetsov probably gained more attention for a point violation against Janowicz than the result. The Pole was cited for obscenity, but claimed that he was reading an advertising sign about hamburgers, telling the chair ump that he said “I like burgers.” That wasn’t Janowicz’s first fun with a chair umpire this season. In March, while playing Dennis Shapovalov at a Challenger, Janowicz received three code violations in five minutes. That resulted in a game penalty at the Guadalajara-based event. The Pole would ultimately lose in a third set tiebreak.

Janowicz, a one-time Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013, has played more Challengers than ATP events again in 2017 in order to work his way back from injury and elevate his ranking. The Pole has been besieged by injuries since that magical run. Later in 2013, it was a back injury that caused him some issues. In 2014, he played with a broken bone in his foot in a season where he went just 24-26. Then, it was a knee injury in late 2015 that stalked him into 2016 and had him sidelined for about six months.

He would finally get healthy around the time of the Rio Olympics. Janowicz returned there, losing to Gilles Muller. He would then hit the Challenger circuit to finish the year in an effort to rebuild his ranking and confidence. The one-time Top 20 player was ranked at 280 to end last season. He’s currently at #155.

Second Meeting This Season

The two players met earlier in Bulgaria in one of Janowicz’s rare forays back into ATP main draws. Dimitrov edged him in three sets 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. That marked Dimitrov’s second win in three tries over the Pole. Dimitrov beat him previously on clay in Rome in 2015 with Janowicz winning their first career clash on hard courts in Cincinnati in 2014. Their most recent meeting in Sofia saw plenty of big serving from both. Dimitrov tallied 15 aces in the match with Jerzy adding 17.

The difference in the match wound up being better second serves from Dimitrov, who won 70 percent of his second serve points. Jerzy won just 52 percent by comparison. Dimitrov would fight off six of seven break points, while converting two of six against Janowicz. It was a very small margin of victory with Dimitrov tallying just six more points overal (99-93).

At the time, Dimitrov was on a roll early in the season. He went on to win the title in Sofia, his second in just three tournaments played. The other came in Brisbane and he had also made the semifinals at the Australian Open. He was 14-1 after the title in Sofia. Now? He is 21-9, going jusy 7-8 since Sofia. That includes four first match losses at tournaments.

Strategy Session

There shouldn’t be much surprise to Janowicz’s play on Thursday. The 6’8″ Pole wants to use his power to serve big and he’s still got the agility to rush the net. That’s a dangerous combination on grass, if he’s hitting his mark on serve. The interesting thing is that Jerzy stayed glued to the baseline almost exclusively in their meeting indoors earlier this season. Changing that up some with some serving and volleying would not be unwise.

For Dimitrov, it’s going to be about finding a rhythm. He’ll have had plenty of practice on grass, but a big load of Haas that did for Roger Federer on Wednesday. Practice helps you get a feel for the surface, but it’s match play that Dimitrov needs. His sluggish starts on grass in recent years don’t suggest that it’s going to be all that smooth.

Going up against a guy who can serve big is also not high on the wish list of things you’d ask for in your first match of the season on grass. In their Sofia meeting, Janowicz went after Dimitrov’s backhand side a lot with his serve to solid results. I would not expect him to stray from trying that again in this one. Jerzy’s power left Dimitrov locked up several times and not able to consistently get solid strikes on his return from that wing. That led to some easy 1-2 punches for Janowicz off the serve to Dimitrov’s backhand.

Dimitrov did a better job of mixing his serves to both Janowicz’s forehand and backhand, which left him guessing. That led to some quicker and more aggressive points for Dimitrov. It also allowed Dimitrov more opportunity to come to net and that is something he needs to do on grass. Janowicz doesn’t have the best return, so as long as the second seed gets his rhythm rocking early – he should be able to get some easier holds as the match grows.

The Pig’s Bottom Line

Upsets have already hit the seeds in Stuttgart with Federer, Johnson and Troicki all going out in their openers. Dimitrov certainly is not immune to early upsets as that became a pattern on clay. I do think Jerzy has the tools and the extra match play to challenge him in this one. The Pole was able to contend well against him earlier in the season. but he’s still been lacking in results when he’s played top tier players. An upset wouldn’t surprise given Dimitrov’s mediocre form, but I’ll give the Bulgarian this one as I believe he’ll be able to ramp up his game as the match moves on.

Prediction: Dimitrov wins in three sets

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