NEW YORK (AP) Roger Federer was reminiscing about watching New York Knicks games at Madison Square Garden on TV in the early 1990s, and Grigor Dimitrov couldn’t help but interject: ”I was born around the ’90s.”
It was no coincidence the 17-time Grand Slam champion was matched against the player nearly a decade younger in Tuesday night’s exhibition at the Garden. Their games are so similar that Dimitrov got tagged with the nickname ”Baby Fed.”
And on Tuesday, the 23-year-old Bulgarian – for the record, he was born in 1991 – kept up with Federer’s shot-making quite nicely. Dimitrov won 6-2, 1-6, 7-5, rallying from a break down in the final set.
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He’s 0-3 in official matches against Federer and didn’t want to make a big deal about beating him this time.
”I have so much respect for him,” said the 11th-ranked Dimitrov, who made his first Grand Slam semifinal at last summer’s Wimbledon.
So the Swiss great did it for him.
”I think he played very well. He did really well to turn the match around, honestly,” Federer said. ”So credit to him. It’s a lot of pressure – first time at the Garden.”
Earlier, Gabriela Sabatini, 44, beat Monica Seles, 41, in a pro set 8-5. Both have rarely played since retiring, but they decided it was worth training to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their classic five-set 1990 WTA Finals match at the Garden, won by Seles.
In the tradition of exhibitions, Dimitrov brought a youngster from the crowd onto the court to play one point in the third set, and the kid successfully lobbed Federer. The two pros made their share of creative shots, too.
Proving he can still pull off his signature moves better than his up-and-coming opponent can, Federer got back a between-the-legs shot from Dimitrov that appeared headed for a winner with a between-the-legs return of his own in the second set. Dimitrov then missed the volley.
Federer had Dimitrov scrambling all over the court early in the final set, leaving Dimitrov nearly doing a split as he failed to run down a shot. A game later, after he chased down a short ball to hit a winner at a near-impossible angle, Federer held his hand to his ear to egg on the crowd.
In the next game, he lifted a moon ball through the giant video screens that hover above the court – when it finally came down, Dimitrov hurdled the ball and still managed to hit it in.
”I really struggled for some time today,” Federer said. ”We did have some great shots. I thought it was actually a pretty high level match at the end of the day.”