In most professional sports, fans are treated to a few stars with big personalities and interesting public personae. Even if it’s something bad—Tiger Woods’ slew of affairs, Michael Jordan’s gambling addiction, Alex Rodriguez’s little drug problem—there’s usually something grabbing headlines and keeping the general public engaged.
In professional tennis, however, fans have been deprived, perhaps mercifully, of this sort of attention for a superstar. Roger Federer reigned supreme over the sport for the better part of a decade. And for the entire time, he seemed like nothing more than a dedicated champion, family man, and class act. The harshest criticism of Federer was that he flaunted his Rolex endorsement a bit too much; not exactly a black mark on his soul. And beyond Federer there’s Rafael Nadal, a world superstar who’s a bit reclusive if anything, and Novak Djokovic, whose occasional touchiness and antics on the court are far cries from actual controversy or intrigue.
For fans who have been paying attention to this year’s Australian Open, however, there are hints of a star emerging who may end up being a bit more of a public figure. To be perfectly clear, nothing here is suggesting he’ll have public issues or controversies. It’s merely that he may be a bit more of a celebrity than we’re used to in tennis elite. We’re talking about Grigor Dimitrov, the 22-year-old quarter-finalist who’s been pegged by every analyst in the game for greatness.
Following an upset of fellow young star Milos Raonic in the third round and a fairly routine fourth round win, Dimitrov reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final this past week and will face Nadal. Now to be clear, Dimitrov isn’t being given much of a shot at advancing. At Betfair news, Dimitrov has received only 74/1 odds to win the Aussie Open as of Tuesday morning, while Nadal has even odds—the best among remaining players. That certainly doesn’t bode well for a continued run for Dimitrov, but the point is he’s arrived. And if he can knock off Nadal, he’ll be an overnight sensation.
But what really makes Dimitrov interesting from a celebrity perspective are three factors.
To begin with, he’s a strikingly good-looking kid with a bit of a mischievous smile, and that never hurts. Additionally, he’s dating Maria Sharapova, setting up the potential for a serious royal alliance if the two ever become serious. And perhaps most importantly, Dimitrov has already been labeled, against his own will, “Baby Fed” because of his game’s similarity to a young Roger Federer. For a 22-year-old to wish against such a nickname is a bit rebellious to say the least. It also doesn’t dampen the drama that Federer himself isn’t entirely cool with the nickname!
Again, Dimitrov is by no means a controversial figure. By all accounts he’s a great kid with incredible talent. But here’s to hoping he’s the colorful public character tennis could use moving forward!