By Shannon Russell
The sixth time was a charm for Grigor Dimitrov.
After losing five times in his career to Juan Martin del Potro, the seventh-seeded Bulgarian player finally bested him in a 6-3, 7-5 Round of 16 victory Thursday at the Western & Southern Open.
World No. 11 Dimitrov navigated sweltering conditions and his hard-serving opponent to advance to the W&S Open quarterfinals. It was a far different outcome than his match against Del Potro in Rome earlier this year, which the Argentine player won in three sets.
Del Potro didn’t go quietly at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, though, surging ahead 4-1 in the second set.
“I played a pretty sloppy game, to be honest. I think the first two games of the second set I really played sloppy tennis. I missed, I think, three shots on his serve. Yeah, I was 40-15 up on my serve when I got broken. That was all my fault,” Dimitrov said.
“I had to accept it. I knew if I stayed with him and just take the right decisions, I would eventually get a chance. I caught quite a few of his serves actually. I was reading his serve pretty well today. I was ready to kind of hold my baseline, which was the key, especially when I broke him back.”
Dimitrov was pleased with his short slice and forehand but said the match was also “a mind game” because the players practice frequently together.
The outcome was significant for Dimitrov’s W&S Open prospects and as a coveted win against a respected opponent on his wish list.
“I spoke with my coach in the locker room after (the win), and I was, like, ‘Listen, I really needed that match.’ He was, like, ‘You know what? I kind of agree with you,’” Dimitrov said.
“Yeah, I always wanted to, coming up the rankings, I always wanted to say that I want to beat all the players out there. That’s a goal of mine. Yes, slowly and surely I’m getting there. There (are) still a few guys that I haven’t conquered yet, but I believe in good times, good things will come.”
Dimitrov faces No. 46 Yuichi Sugita on Friday for a shot at a second W&S Open semifinal in as many years. Dimitrov fell to eventual champion Marin Cilic in 2016.
FAMILIAR FACES: World No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova advanced to the W&S Open quarters again after securing straight sets victories Thursday.
Former W&S Open finalist Halep dispatched Anastasija Sevastova 6-4, 6-3 while four-time tournament quarterfinalist Wozniacki defeated qualifier Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-2. Kuznetsova, a 2016 W&S Open quarterfinalist, handled Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-4.
Halep has a chance to usurp the No. 1 ranking from Karolina Pliskova by virtue of three scenarios. The second-seeded Romanian would have to win the title, reach the final as long as Pliskova did not reach the semifinals, or reach the semifinals as long as Pliskova does not reach the semifinals and Elina Svitolina does not win the title.
The 78-minute Round of 16 match against Sevastova was no picnic for Halep, who trailed 4-2 in the first set.
She turned the tables by going up two breaks to finish the set and carrying the momentum to a 3-0 second-set lead. Sevastova made the match difficult but failed to stem the tide.
“The match felt quite tough. Was not easy at all. I can say that I’m not playing my best tennis in this moment, but winning, even if I play less good, I think it’s a big plus for me. It gives me a little bit more power, inside power that I can handle it,” Halep said.
“I won against 15th player in the world playing not as I want. It’s a big thing, and I’m really happy about it.”
THE NEXT GENERATION: Wild card Jared Donaldson has made waves as a #NextGenATP American rising through the tour ranks, and he’s impacting this year’s W&S Open, too.
After upsetting World No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut – the biggest win of Donaldson’s career thus far – he ousted lucky loser Ramkumar Ramanathan to reach the Round of 16. There, he downed Nikoloz Basilashvili in a 6-4, 7-6 (4) match to reach his first quarterfinal here.
In fact, it was his first Round of 16 victory in 14 tries on tour.
Donaldson’s match against Basilashvili remained even until the American went up a break for a 5-4 lead. He held serve to finish the first set.
Then, after Basilashvili jumped ahead 2-0 in the second set tiebreak, Donaldson battled back to knot the score at 3 and 4. He converted the last three points for the win.
Life has been good lately for Donaldson, 20, who leads the #NextGenATP Americans in wins with 28. His next challenge is 6-foot-10 John Isner, who snuffed a potential meeting of #NextGenATP countrymen by edging 19-year-old wild card Frances Tiafoe in a rain-addled 7-6 (4), 7-5 match Thursday evening.
Isner, a 2013 W&S Open finalist, fired 25 aces against Tiafoe and ensured his third straight all-American match – against a third straight wild card – in this tournament.
After ousting Viktor Troicki in a first-round clash, Isner subdued U.S. wild cards Tommy Paul and Tiafoe, and now faces Donaldson in the quarterfinals.
GUESS WHO’S BACK: World No. 31 David Ferrer, a 2014 W&S Open finalist, scored a mild upset by defeating 11th seeded (and 17th-ranked) Spanish countryman Pablo Carreno Busto and locking up a quarterfinal bid. Ferrer won 6-4, 6-4 in 77 minutes. Ferrer’s next foe is third-seeded Dominic Thiem, who squeaked past Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3).
MUGURUZA MOVES ON: Madison Keys defeated Garbine Muguruza 11 days ago en route to a Stanford title, but Muguruza returned the favor in a three-set thriller Thursday.
The fourth-seeded Spaniard saved three match points in a rain-delayed 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) Round of 16 win on Center Court. Muguruza advances to the quarterfinals for the second time in as many years, where she’ll play Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Muguruza’s first career win over Keys had no shortage of drama. Muguruza dealt with left leg pain, both contended with heat and wind, and the match was locked a 2-all in the third set when a downpour ensured a two-hour delay.
Keys converted a break after the rain intermission. The American was poised to sew up the victory several games later, but she misfired on a trio of match points. She twice dumped the ball into the net and hit a return long.
Muguruza seized control, forcing the tiebreak and jumping ahead 4-2 after another Keys unforced error. Keys lost a challenge on the last point, which was confirmed out, and Muguruza prevailed.
Afterward, Muguruza attributed her success to “fighting and believing that until the last point I have my options.”
“And I know I had three match points against, but I did feel that I was doing the right thing,” Muguruza said.
“I think she played amazingly well at the end,” Keys said. “She really didn’t give me any unforced errors or anything like that. I obviously had some unforced errors that I wasn’t happy about, but I felt like I had to go for it because she was just going to make everything.”
Asked about her post-tournament plans, Keys said she might stick around Cincinnati a bit longer to see baby hippo Fiona at the zoo.
REALITY CHECK: A van on Thursday plowed into a crowd of people in Barcelona, killing 13 and injuring more than 100. The terror attack occurred near the popular tourist area, Las Ramblas.
The news hit home for Muguruza, whose family moved to Spain in 1999. She trained in a facility near Barcelona growing up and has been to Las Ramblas “so many times.”
She learned of the situation during the rain delay and quickly contacted her family to ensure everyone was fine.
“I was very surprised, you know, because you always hear what happened in Paris and in London, and you’re, like, (Shoot). But now, I have been so many times to this place, it’s like my home. And I feel, like, (Shoot), I have been there so many times. So it really shocked me. Really shocked me,” Muguruza said.
“I’m just sad for the people that were there. I feel like if you’re in the wrong moment at the wrong time, it can happen anywhere.”