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MELBOURNE, Australia – Grigor Dimitrov may have come up agonizingly short of making his first Grand Slam final, but he's looking at the bright side.
At 25, he's reached the second major semifinal of his career, and he took Rafael Nadal to five sets — in nearly five hours — before finally losing 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 at the Australian Open.
Plus, he felt fitter than he expected down the stretch, avoiding the cramping that has hobbled him in matches against Nadal in the past.
"It's never easy to lose a match like that," he said. "I'm happy, though, with a lot of things. I'm going to stay positive and keep my head up high."
Dimitrov is off to quite a start to the year. Already, he's made it back to a major semifinal for the first time since Wimbledon in 2014, he's captured a title at the Brisbane International tournament, and he's compiled a 10-1 record, with wins over top-10 players Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem.
Dimitrov has credited his new coach, Dani Vallverdu, who joined him last year, with helping him streamline his approach to the sport, from his preparations for matches to his training. He said he feels extremely focused at the moment and it's been the key to his early-season resurgence.
"As soon as the off-season was on, it was just very simple," he said following his fourth-round win over Denis Istomin. "We discussed what we can do better, what we need to work on, what we need to improve, and how we want to be in 2017. I mean, simple as that."
Dimitrov rallied to win from a set down twice at Melbourne Park, and he nearly did it again against Nadal in the semifinal. The Bulgarian was the more aggressive player throughout the match, keeping Nadal pinned behind the baseline with sharply angled groundstrokes and smothering net play.
He struck 79 winners, nearly double Nadal's 45, but was also the more inconsistent of the two, committing 70 unforced errors.
Still, Dimitrov kept going for the lines until the end, fending off Nadal's first two match points with beautifully constructed points before hitting a backhand long to give the 14-time Grand Slam champion the match.
"I just don't want to put my head down for a second right now, especially when I'm feeling good, I'm competing great," he said. "I'm appreciating my run so far. It's been a great start of the year. It doesn't happen often that you come off from 10 matches in a row."
With his new self-belief, he thinks it's now only a matter of time before he gets over the hump and makes a major final, too.
"I think the Wimbledon (semifinals), I was very nervous for a set and a half. I'm not going to lie. I was just nervous," he said. "I think if you really aim higher and you expect more from yourself, you cannot allow yourself to think that way."