Dubai Tennis: Grigor Dimitrov not dwelling on past glory, braced for tricky opener against Malek Jaziri

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Following a career-best 2017 season that saw him rise to No. 3 in the world, Dubai top seed Grigor Dimitrov insists he is more focused on looking ahead than staying attached to the past.

The Bulgarian star, who ended last year by winning the ATP Finals in London, is making his first Dubai appearance since 2011, and just his second overall.

Still dealing with a cold that troubled him during his run to the Rotterdam final last week (lost to Roger Federer in straights), Dimitrov arrived in Dubai last Wednesday and has practiced every day hoping to get back to full health.

Dimitrov is considered the outright favourite for the title at the Aviation Club, as the only top-10 player in the field, and opens his campaign against Tunisian wildcard Malek Jaziri on Tuesday night.

“I think always those kind of draws are creating very big opportunities for everyone to do their best, to do better, to push themselves more,” the 26-year-old Dimitrov told reporters in Dubai on Sunday.

“But as I said, even in the past weeks, one of the most important things for me has been to really focus on myself, to start to build up again. From each tournament, as soon as I enter it, is to be better with each match. This is what I did the last week, the week before. I feel like this is the kind of key for me that I really need to focus on.”

Dimitrov started his year by making the semi-finals in Brisbane (lost to Nick Kyrgios) and reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, where he was shocked by Kyle Edmund while dealing with a shoulder issue.

That injury forced him to pull out of his home tournament in Sofia earlier this month before heading to Rotterdam and reaching the final there.

Currently ranked No. 4 in the world, Dimitrov is often the hunted rather than the hunter nowadays at tournaments.

While he is yet to fully recover from his cold, he believes he’s ready to compete in Dubai.

“Whatever it is, it is. It’s behind me. No excuses. I’m going to play,” he assured on Sunday.

His new status among the world’s elite naturally means he is approaching his season slightly differently. He is trying not to get too carried away though by his own success.

“To really look back now and think, ‘Okay, this is a new start, new year, new beginning’, yes, that’s the case. At the same time, for me, I’m just trying to be very positive and good. Like everything in life goes through ups and downs, right? So I just don’t want to be too high, be too low after that kind of success,” said the Monaco-resident.

“When I started this year, I already had a different goals, different mindset. And, yeah, now is the same thing. With each tournament that I’m playing, for example, last week in Rotterdam, I did well. I’m like, ‘Okay, let me reassess how the tournament has gone, what else I need to be doing, what else I need to do in order to be better’. Things are just coming into play every week.

“You never know, you might get another injury, you might get another cold. Automatically you need to reassess the whole schedule that you have already planned and is ahead of you.

“I think every week can make you do that, to be honest. Yes, what had happened last year, it happened. It’s in the past. It’s a great memory, for sure. It’s something nice to feed off.”

Dimitrov didn’t play a tournament during the Dubai week last year, while he competed in Acapulco between 2014 and 2016 (the Mexican event coincides with the UAE one).

This year has changed things around and is making a return to the Aviation Club for the first time in seven years.

“It’s always nice to mix and match a little bit, I think. I always like my routines. I played certain tournaments throughout all the years,” he explained.

“There comes a time that it’s good to improvise, to try something new. It’s a big tournament. It’s a 500 event. I mean, I’m here to play, to win. I need points. I need everything.

“It’s something that I like to take into consideration. Also it’s warm conditions, outdoors. It’s great also to prepare for Indian Wells, Miami. Yeah, there are just I think a lot of components coming into the game right now.”

Dimitrov and Jaziri have never faced off on tour but are familiar with each other off the court.

“Malek? We’ve known each other for a really, really long time. We played a lot, even before we both got on tour,” said Dimitrov.

“He plays well. I know he has good results out here. He likes the conditions here. He’s been playing well. For sure I need to be ready. As I said, every opponent that you play, you just don’t have to underestimate, that’s all.

“Again, right now I’m just really, really focused even a bit more on myself, on the way I’m going to recover, just position myself this week.”

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