NEW YORK — 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, just 1 1/2 days before taking the court for what turned out to be a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Ugo Humbert.
The women’s draw saw some big names exit on Day 2 at the hard-court tournament: No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova, No. 2 Sofia Kenin and 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens. Pliskova, the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up who will be the top seed when the Grand Slam tournament begins Aug. 31, lost 7-5, 6-4 to Veronika Kudermetova; Kenin, who won the Australian Open this year, was upset by Alize Cornet 6-1, 7-6 (7); Stephens was eliminated by Caroline Garcia 6-3, 7-6 (4).
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.”
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 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 7 David Goffin, 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 and next faces defending champion Daniil Medvedev.
Other women advancing included No. 12 Anett Kontaveit, No. 14 Elise Mertens, American qualifier CiCi Bellis and Jessica Pegula, a 7-6 (5), 6-4 winner against Jennifer Brady, who won her first WTA title last week at Lexington, Kentucky.