World Tennis League: Dimitrov saves the day for Falcons

Serbian Novak Djokovic withdraws from his match against Nick Kyrgios because he was unwell, with Dimitrov stepping in


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Grigor Dimitrov in action against Nick Kyrgios. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
Grigor Dimitrov in action against Nick Kyrgios. — Photo by Neeraj Murali

Published: Thu 22 Dec 2022, 1:35 AM

It’s definitely not inaccurate to say that Grigor Dimitrov, who early in his career was called ‘Baby Fed’, saved the day for the Falcons after deputising for an unwell Novak Djokovic, to see his team open their account in the four-team World Tennis League at the Coca-Cola Arena on Wednesday.

Dimitrov teamed up with Aryna Sabalenka to record a 2-6 7-6 (10-7) victory over the Eagles pairing of Bianca Andreescu and Rohan Bopanna before coming on as a late replacement for 21-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic in the final match of the day, against Nick Kyrgios.

Carolina Garcia in action against Paula Badosa. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
Carolina Garcia in action against Paula Badosa. — Photo by Neeraj Murali

The exertions of a hard day in the office did not seem to worry Dimitrov, who once dated women’s world No.1 Maria Sharapova, as he defeated the Australian in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3.

The large crowd at Dubai’s new sporting venue in the heart of the city, may have felt like they had been let-down when tournament organisers announced that the Serbian great would not fulfill his duties in the final match of the evening. But Dimitrov more than compensated with a sterling display against a dangerous foe, who was tasting defeat for the second successive day, following a loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime on Tuesday.

In an official statement, which was broadcast live to all those in attendance at the Coca-Cola Arena, the on-court announcer said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, unfortunately Novak Djokovic will not be partaking due to not feeling 100% well enough to play.

"But because he loves his fans and his team, he's been here tonight as you've seen out on court.

“The message from Novak to his fans in the stadium and across the globe is the greatest show on court must go on. So, he has asked his teammate Grigor Dimitrov to take to the court right now. He'll be playing singles. He's ready to go. And of course we wish Djokovic well."

The Djokovic vs Kyrgios match was expected to be the highlight of the tournament, being a much-anticipated rematch of their Wimbledon final earlier this year, where the Serb defeated the Australian in four sets to claim his 21st major title.

Interestingly, Djokovic was present on team Falcons' bench throughout their match against the Eagles and even entertained fans with some of his soon to be legendary dance moves. The Serb is set to return to court on Friday for the Falcons final match against the Kites, where he is scheduled to play Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Earlier, it was Dimitrov, who was making a notable statement as he kept the Falcons in the hunt for a place in the tournament finals on Christmas Eve, with some typically sublime tennis at the venue’s custom-build bright orange and blue hard court.

Every team has its heroes and Dimitrov symbolised the beating heart of a team that had just suffered a huge blow with the news of its star player being sidelined.

The Falcons were trailing Eagles following the women's singles match between Carolina Garcia and Paula Badosa as the World Tennis League awards points for every game won in addition to one extra point for every match won.

As a result of the format and scoring system, the Eagles led 12-11 despite Bopanna and Andreescu losing. They then extended their lead to 24-18 point after Garcia defeated Badosa.

At the close of play on Wednesday, the Eagles topped the four-team table on 65 points with Falcons on 58. The Hawks and the Kites are on 35 points each.


Mixed Doubles

Aryna Sabalenka/ Grigor Dimitrov (Falcons) beat Bianca Andreescu/ Rohan Bopanna (Eagles) 2-6 7-6 (10-7)

Women’s singles

Carolina Garcia (Eagles) beat Paula Badosa (Falcons) 6-4 6-3

Men’s singles

Grigor Dimitrov (Falcons) beat Nick Kyrios (Eagles) 7-6 6-3


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