Three years after being crowned Wimbledon junior champion, South Australian qualifier Luke Saville walked onto the famed centre court with the man considered the most likely to become a first-time senior winner at the All England Club this year. Saville lost 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, but was far from disgraced, having witnessed from the closest range the emerging force that is Grigor Dimitrov.
It was convincing, and clinical at times, but not unexpected, given that Saville had not won a main draw tour-level match until Tuesday’s defeat of Dominic Thiem, and was down a match point in his final round of qualifying.
He is still just 20, but has not found the transition to senior tennis as easy as he had hoped, and others had perhaps expected, but the former world No.1 junior has now earned his place inside the the top 200. Small steps, yes, but, as he has noted, not everyone can be Bernard Tomic or Nick Kyrgios, and stride out so successfully while still in their teens.
Meanwhile, having won the major lead-up tournament at Queen’s Club, the growing regard for Dimitrov has been reflected in his treatment by a Wimbledon scheduling committee, already clearly seduced by his smoothly-talented Bulgarian.
In round one, the 11th seed was placed on the No.1 court to play qualifier Ryan Harrison. For the next, he was the first men’s match on the hallowed centre, while defending champion and local superhero Andy Murray was sent elsewhere.
The 23-year-old with the flowing one-handed backhand has long been known for his stylistic similarity to Roger Federer, the part-owner of his management company, and more recently as the boyfriend of five-time major winner Maria Sharapova.
But it is since hiring Australian coach Roger Rasheed late last season that Dimitrov has begun to channel his undeniable talent, cut down on the flashy low-percentage play, and add strength and endurance to what was an athletic by boyish frame. At Rasheed’s behest, two of the first things to go were the reference to the “Baby Fed” nickname in the ATP’s player guide, and the hot pink shoes. Plenty is now coming the Bulgarian’s way.
Most things went right against Saville, too, the Melbourne-based 20-year-old from South Australia’s Riverland trying his best with a game well-suited to the grass courts on which he was raised. He competed well, but was never in danger of conquering, and without a single groundstroke winner off the backhand side, and just one break point chance, lost it in 93 minutes, stopping to sign a few autographs as he left.
Out on court one, Murray had logged a far more emphatic drubbing of Blaz Kavcic,for the loss of just two games. Which helps to put Saville’s effort into perspective, for this was an honourable defeat in the biggest match of his life. He will learn, and improve, and be better for the experience.