2 months after COVID ‘dark moment,’ Dimitrov wins in return

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Grigor Dimitrov

Grigor Dimitrov, of Bulgaria, returns to Ugo Humbert, of France, at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK (AP) — Two months after barely being able to walk while ill with COVID-19, Grigor Dimitrov played a professional tennis match at the Western & Southern Open on Sunday and — while the result was not what was most important — he won.

“I said to myself, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ Now I’m here playing a match today,” said Dimitrov, a 29-year-old from Bulgaria who was a U.S. Open semifinalist last year and is ranked No. 19. “Honestly, I’m just purely thankful that I’m even able to just be here, to participate. Forget about the match — I’m not even talking about tennis right now.”

He said he arrived in New York, the site for both the Western & Southern Open and the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 31, just 1½ days before taking the court for what turned out to be a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Ugo Humbert.

Dimitrov tested positive for the coronavirus in June while participating in a series of exhibitions in Croatia and Serbia organized by Novak Djokovic, who also got COVID-19. (Djokovic pulled out of the doubles event at the Western & Southern Open on Sunday, citing neck pain, but is still slated to compete in singles Monday.)

“The first week was just tragic. I started by just walking. I couldn’t really do any exercise. I could not lift weights. I couldn’t play tennis,” Dimitrov said, adding that he lost a lot of weight while sick.

“It was a really dark moment,” he said. “I’m not going to lie.”

Eventually, Dimitrov said, he would practice for 20 minutes at a time, then built that up in increments. Still, he was doubtful about getting back on tour at the Western & Southern Open, the first ATP tournament since tennis went on hiatus in March because of the pandemic.

Dimitrov said he hopes his experience with the coronavirus can serve as a bit of a cautionary tale for those who might not take the illness seriously.

“I just kind of wanted to show a message that it doesn’t matter, in a sense, ‘who you are,’ how fit you are and how healthy you eat and so on,” Dimitrov said. “This thing doesn’t ask anybody (those things). We’re all equal.”

In women’s first-round matches on Day 2 of the hard-court tournament, 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens was eliminated by Caroline Garcia 6-3, 7-6 (4), and Jessica Pegula got past Jennifer Brady — who won her first WTA title last week at Lexington, Kentucky — 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Other winners included No. 12 Anett Kontaveit, No. 14 Elise Mertens and American qualifier CiCi Bellis.

Two seeded men exited: No. 10 Andrey Rublev, beaten 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 by Daniel Evans; and No. 13 Cristian Garin, a 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-0 loser against Aljaz Bedene. Men’s winners included No. 11 seed Karen Khachanov, whose 6-4, 6-4 victory began with his opponent, Alexander Bublik, trying an underhand serve; No. 9 Diego Schwartzman, No. 16 John Isner and American qualifier Marcos Giron, who beat Mackenzie McDonald 7-6 (2), 7-5 in a matchup between former college teammates at UCLA.

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