In the latest edition of Players’ Voice, the 2021 Australian Open quarter-finalist Grigor Dimitrov reflects on lessons learned from the pandemic, entering his thirties and his Bulgarian pride.
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When they told me I had Coronavirus, it literally took my breath away; I had met so many people around that time including kids and families, so the first thing I needed to do was to make sure that they all knew. That included my own family because I think I saw everyone at that same time, but luckily enough, nobody was affected.
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Then it was also very important for me to send the right message more widely. I didn’t shy away; I could have easily kept quiet but I just wanted everyone to be aware that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do and how fit you are.
It came at a very uncomfortable time, I had kept safe for so long and put in a great amount of work prior to it. It was one of the times that I really could put in some extra work and because I suffered from shoulder problems the year before, it was a good chance for me to make up for that lost time. But when it hit, there’s not much else you can do other than just accept what it is in that moment and seize it as an opportunity to look at the career and re-evaluate everything. It gave me a lot of time and it put a lot of things into perspective. It also makes you release how weak you are and how insignificant everything is, especially when it comes to health.
It was definitely a learning process for me, but I was very happy to have great people around me like my team, my family, the people who love me. I started playing again but I was just not there - both physically and mentally - and I wasn’t prepared to do the hard yards. But little by little, I started to find my own rhythm and returned to a sort of normality.
Now it’s just nice to appreciate the little moments as I think we often neglect the things that surround us, whether that’s the beautiful sunrise or being able to just sit and have a coffee with friends. We’ve taken so many things in life for granted, which is kind of normal; life speeds up, we want many things and set goals that require so much more of us that we lose sight of things. But I think that perspective changed for everyone and maybe happiness will now filter through a little differently to us all. At the end of the day, we are all great individuals; we just want to find our own little spot under the sun where we can achieve our goals and turn those dreams into reality.
Soon I’ll be turning 30 and I can’t say I have put too much thought into that, but the one thing I can say for sure, though, is that I’m excited. It’s not young, it’s not old but it feels like you’re entering a new phase of life where you start looking at yourself differently, you understand yourself a little bit more and you can start to cut the unnecessary things that surround you; you don’t want to waste time on things that really don’t add to your life.
Every athlete has an expiration date.
Physically I’m feeling good, mentally I don’t feel 30, which is a good thing, but I still feel like I’m maturing a lot in my head. So who knows what’s going to happen? Only time will tell. I would love to keep on playing for as long as my body allows me to compete at the highest level. However, tennis is just a temporary thing, it’s not going to be forever. We’re athletes and every athlete has an expiration date, that’s just how it is. Right now we’re just living our dream but after that, the real life begins.
So aside from tennis, having family in the future is hopefully on the cards as well as working on other things that I’ve always wanted to do. Then one day, when it’s time to say goodbye to one thing, I’ll be ready for the other one with open arms and excited for the next chapter in my life.
I recently set up my own foundation which I hope will play a big part in that. It’s something that has always been at the back of my mind, I just wanted to wait to find the right time. When I was a kid growing up in Bulgaria, my mum used to pick me up from school and we would pass kids who basically had no chance of help around. I remember asking her if anyone was going to help them and she was very honest with me and said, “I’m not going to lie to you, son, they’re in a very difficult position but if you want to do something one day, why don’t you keep on playing tennis?”
That stuck with me ever since and I’ve actually appointed my mum as the foundation’s director. We both definitely remember that conversation so it symbolises a lot. She thinks differently from anyone I’ve ever met in my whole life, and I think it’s because of her that I’ve always thought outside the box. She has this infinite positivity and an aura about her that really speaks a language that isn’t foreign to me. It pushes me to want to find that next step and purpose so I couldn’t have thought of a better person, and I believe she will do a great job, I do not even doubt her for a second.
We are still structuring those final pieces and it’s taking a little bit of time because I want us to cover a broad spectrum and not just focus on one certain thing. We are trying to find a way to support as many areas as possible, whether it’s families, kids or adults, essentially whoever needs the necessary help to progress in life, so I’m excited about it, but it’s challenging because I’m having to go really deep within myself.
I feel like I was one of the few lucky ones who was able to have a family like the one I had. Each member has contributed in a very different and significant way in my life. I learned a lot from each of them and I just want to give something back, so I see this as a way to make up for my absence from my family and country.
Grigor Dimitrov wins his maiden career title at the 2013 Stockholm Open to become Bulgaria’s first champion in ATP Tour history
Image credit: Getty Images
Playing for Bulgaria matters to me; everyone in my family still lives there and I try to get back as much as I can. I’ve had so many opportunities throughout my career to play for different countries and I am proud of the fact I never made any drastic decisions. I am proud to be Bulgarian and that has always stayed with me.
Pursuing my dream of becoming a tennis player meant I had to move away very early in my life, but I’m still the same person that I was back then. My passport and my flag are Bulgarian and I still feel like I’m a big part of it. I’m very happy that we are able to have a history in men’s tennis, especially after what the Maleeva sisters achieved in the women’s game. That is huge for me, but I also hope that the work we do with the foundation ensures that the legacy I leave is not only for what I’ve achieved on the court.
We live in a time of uncertainty and everything is changing every single day wherever you are in the world. However, one thing I am certain of is that we might as well stay in the moment, appreciate it, go out there and give 100 per cent of yourself - on and off the court - and that’s all you can ask. Control the controllables!
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