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Dimitrov Overcomes McDonald In Late-Night Marathon

Grigor Dimitrov survived a huge test at the Australian Open to defeat American qualifier Mackenzie McDonald 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 8-6 on Wednesday. Dimitrov found himself in serious danger against McDonald, who had never previously faced a player ranked higher than No. 69 in the ATP Rankings, but came through in three hours and 26 minutes.

Dimitrov, who reached the semi-finals last year, bounced back from losing the fourth set 0-6, and, as the pressure increased, the Bulgarian used his big-match experience to convert the lone break point opportunity of the fifth set for a memorable win over the World No. 186.

Grigor Dimitrov survives five-set thriller at the Australian Open on Wednesday night.
“I fought through the match. I had to find a way to win. It was simple as that,” said Dimitrov. “The game wasn't there today. I wasn't feeling well on the court. My movement was a little bit out of sorts…but I won with what I had. That was my fighting spirit, the experience. When it got to those tight moments, I thought I just played well.”

The reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion struggled to win points behind his second serve (13/46) and hit nine double faults in the match, but found a way, with the help of 48 winners to write his name in the last 32 of the draw. Dimitrov has now reached the third round for the fifth consecutive year, after avoiding a loss to a player ranked outside of the Top 100 for the first time at a Grand Slam.

Escaping the fate of consecutive second-round losses at a Grand Slam, Dimitrov moves on to the third round where he will meet Andrey Rublev, the player responsible for his round of 64 loss at the 2017 US Open. The #NextGenATP star won, after the Russian battled past 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2.

McDonald was quick off the mark in set one, converting what would be his only break point in the third game. Losing just three points behind his first serve and playing without fear, the young American saved two break points in the eighth game before converting his third set point to lead the 2017 semi-finalist.

“I have to give him credit. He came out there and started swinging. Played an unbelievable first set. There was honestly not much I could have done. He was serving well, close to the lines, swinging freely, coming to the net, trying to play a different game. In a way, he knew that was the only way he could actually give me a trouble,” said Dimitrov.

Order was soon to be restored in the second set however, as Dimitrov limited his opponent to just two winners, six times less than he had conceded in the opening set. The reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion broke in consecutive McDonald service games to close out the set and even the scoreboard.

The third set would once again see 22-year-old McDonald take an early lead. Dimitrov saved two break points with phenomenal defensive and attacking forehands at 2-2, but could not save a third, as his forehand was confirmed by Hawk Eye to have fired wide. The third seed battled back immediately in the next game with a stunning forehand passing shot to level the set once again at 3-3. In the tenth game, Dimitrov would capitalise on forehand errors before taking a two-sets-to-one lead with a forehand winner.

For the third time in four sets, Dimitrov would relinquish the initiative early. Double faults and forehand errors from Dimitrov would help McDonald, who won his first tour-level match on Monday, earn a stunning 6-0 fourth set to force a decider.

“I played a very sloppy game, the first game,” admitted Dimitrov. “I drifted away on that set. I just felt if I could have had maybe another look or break back, things would have been different. After that, the set just kind of run away from me.

“A lot of the shots that he was hitting on the run, especially on the run on the forehand, they were passing sometimes millimetres over the net. Honestly, there's not much more I could have done in that particular set."

The fifth set would see both men produce incredible levels of serving and composure, with none of the first 11 games going to deuce. McDonald passed the first real test of the set, serving to stay in the match for a second time at 5-6, but held his nerve when two points from defeat at 0/30 and deuce.

Dimitrov however, would not be denied two games later. The pressure began to tell on McDonald, who dropped to 0/30 and, although he won three straight points, Dimitrov raised his game with a stunning backhand winner. A double fault and forehand into the net from McDonald followed, bringing the blockbuster to an end with Dimitrov roaring in celebration in front a capacity crowd just before midnight local time.

Addressing concerns over how his body will react to such a tough match early in the event, Dimitrov was confident about his ability to recover and focussed, philosophically, on the positive aspects of such a hard-fought win.

“The body feels well, so that's a good sign,” assessed Dimitrov. “I don't feel I wasted that much energy, even though I stayed over three hours on the court.

“That's the beauty of tennis, you always get another day. Every day is different. It's a two-week tournament. Anything can happen. Right now I'm just positive, happy with the situation. To win ugly."

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