Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

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

By James Masters, for CNN
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
  • 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

Open Court is CNN's monthly tennis show. Click here for latest news, videos and features.

(CNN) -- 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.

Pat Cash takes on Dimitrov
The story behind Sharapova's success
Tipsarevic's clay court master class

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

Read: The man behind Maria's millions

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."

Read: Wimbledon bonus for tennis stars

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.

The All England Club, which organizes the Wimbledon Championship, has revealed that it will build a new roof on No.1 Court. The All England Club, which organizes the Wimbledon Championship, has revealed that it will build a new roof on No.1 Court.
Flying high
Wimbledon to put a lid on it Wimbledon to put a lid on it
Maria Sharapova won the French Open last year to become the 10th woman to claim all four grand slams. But she plans on playing for several years before pursuing her business interests. Maria Sharapova won the French Open last year to become the 10th woman to claim all four grand slams. But she plans on playing for several years before pursuing her business interests.
Still motivated
Tennis still Sharapova\'s top priority Tennis still Sharapova's top priority
Rafael Nadal stayed on course for a record-extending ninth consecutive title at the Monte Carlo Masters after beating Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in the third round. Rafael Nadal stayed on course for a record-extending ninth consecutive title at the Monte Carlo Masters after beating Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in the third round.
Nadal into Monte Carlo quarterfinals
Nadal into Monte Carlo quarterfinals Nadal into Monte Carlo quarterfinals

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

Read: Sharapova - Struggles made me stronger

"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.

Read: Tennis is a 'clean sport'

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."

Tommy Haas: My daughter motivates me
Chris Evert: Grooming future champions
Rafael Nadal returns to the court

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.

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.

Read: Djokovic takes Nadal's Monte Carlo crown

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."

Read: Nadal survives Monte Carlo scare

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."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:08 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.
Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
updated 8:42 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A year that began in uncertainty for Roger Federer ended with a historic title for the 17-time grand slam champion and his country.
updated 12:16 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
French Tennis player Rene Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers' who won the Davis Cup in 1932, at Wimbledon. He is wearing his embroidered crocodile motif. Original Publication: People Disc - HH0434 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Marin Cilic follows in the footsteps of his coach Goran Ivanicevic by claiming a grand slam crown for Croatia, winning the U.S. Open.
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Sun September 14, 2014
Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.
Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Canada and tennis? Really? Yup. The North American tennis power balance is swinging away from the States.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
As a player he was as fiery as his hair -- and as Novak Djokovic's coach, Boris Becker says he has to battle to keep his emotions in check.
updated 7:02 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Tennis great Boris Becker says he was stunned by the level of criticism he received after being appointed as Novak Djokovic's coach.
updated 7:01 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
When Agnieszka Radwanska refused to look her opponent in the eye after losing at Wimbledon, it raised more than eyebrows.
updated 9:14 PM EDT, Sun June 22, 2014
It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
He's regularly voted France's favorite famous person, but many of the nation's youth have "no idea" about his glorious sporting past
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.