'Baby Federer' tag weighs on tennis star's shoulders

Can 'Baby Federer' become a champion?

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Story highlights

  • Young tennis star Grigor Dimitrov wants to shed his "Baby Federer" tag
  • Bulgarian hoping to climb up the rankings from career-high 28th this year
  • Reveals he always dreamed of being a tennis player as a child
  • Talks about his love of fine food and fast cars in life away from the court

Built like a wrestler, when Grigor Dimitrov says "don't call me baby," you'd be advised to listen.

The 21-year-old has had enough with the tennis world labeling him as "Baby Federer" following comparisons with 17-time grand slam champion Roger Federer.

After winning the U.S. and Wimbledon junior titles in 2008, his coach Peter Lundgren at the time hailed Dimitrov as the next Federer -- a man who the former Swedish player had worked with previously.

It was supposed to be a compliment -- a warning to the rest of the world that Bulgaria had unearthed a tennis player ready to emulate one of the greatest to have ever picked up a racket.

But Lundgren's comment has weighed heavily on Dimitrov's shoulders ever since with the watching world awaiting his rise to stardom.

It was Lundgren who oversaw Federer's first 10 ATP World Tour titles and his first grand slam title win at Wimbledon at 2003.

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And while Dimitrov would love to follow in the Swiss star's footsteps, he wants to make it clear that he is his own man -- not Federer mark two.

"You know, all the comparisons, I think that I definitely want people to stop with that," he told CNN's Open Court show.

"Of course we have some similarities here and there. I'm flattered with that and actually, I thought it was really cool at the beginning.

"But with time, I've realized what I am. It's something that is definitely not what the other person is, so I'm trying to build up my own style and when I'm on court, I do my own shots.

"I think that's eventually what everyone will see."

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Dimitrov has been plotting his rise to the top since the very first time he stepped onto a court as a child with his father Dimitar, a tennis coach in their native city of Haskovo.

His single-handed backhand, which is so unusual among players of his age group, was honed under his father's gaze.

"I actually never thought of any other sport," said Dimitrov, recalling his formative years.

"My father was a tennis coach and my mum was a former volleyball player, so I was in the sport area in general.

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"But the only thing I was always telling my parents was: 'I just want to play tennis.'

"Obviously, my dad showed me a few shots. I was six or seven and I was just playing regularly."

Such was Dimitrov's talent during his teenage years that he was soon off to France to train at the prestigious Patrick Mouratoglou Academy just outside of Paris.

It was there that he began to show glimpses of his future potential, winning a whole host of junior tournaments on his way to becoming the third youngest player to break into the world's top 100 in 2011.

But it was his decision to leave France to join up with the "Good to Great Academy" in Sweden last November which has helped propel his career to the next level.

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Working alongside ex-world No. 2 Magnus Norman and the former doubles partnership of Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom, Dimitrov reached the Brisbane International final before losing to Briton Andy Murray in January.

"All the guys from Good to Great Academy are amazing and all of them have incredible experiences from the tour," Dimitrov said.

"They all have something to bring to the table so that makes it a lot more interesting.

"You take a little from this one, pick a little from that one, and then the next thing you know, you're getting sort of completed and, that helps you during the weeks."

While Dimitrov has yet to propel himself into the top 10 -- he has reached a career-high 28th this year -- he has begun to show signs of improvement, most noticeably during last month's Monte Carlo Masters.

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The young pretender gave Rafael Nadal one of the toughest tests on clay that the seven-time French Open champion has endured in recent years.

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A full-blooded display against the undisputed king of the surface was eventually curtailed by defeat in three sets, but the fruits of his labor were bared for all to see.

"I had kind of rough matches in the past weeks so it gave me of course a lot of confidence, even though I lost them," Dimitrov said.

"I felt quite good about myself and the way I was progressing and of course, these hours in the gym.

"They're just a must. You just kind of do it and it doesn't matter if it's Sunday or Saturday, you've just got to do what you've got to do.

"I mean basically, you've got to make it."

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Away from the court, and when he's not working out, Dimitrov has plenty of other interests to keep him busy.

While he remains coy on his private life, having been linked romantically to women's tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams in the past, he is more than happy to divulge his other extracurricular activities.

"I enjoy good food," he said. "That's one of the things. I love good restaurants and I love cars and all these things.

"We're away for 25 weeks a year so you appreciate the time when you're off.

"If you can get it with friends and family and you know, people around that you thought you hadn't seen for a while, it's always good.

"Of course if you get the chance to go somewhere to get a few days away here and there, I mean I'd definitely get that."


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