At the BNP Paribas Open this March in Indian Wells, California, the tennis superstar Novak Djokovic crashed a press conference where Grigor Dimitrov, the 23-year-old Bulgarian rookie, was fielding questions. Djokovic sat down next to Dimitrov and put his arm around him. “You don’t need to talk about tennis,” Djokovic told his friend. “Let’s talk about your looks.”
Dimitrov is the youngest player in the top 20 and is widely thought of as the future of men’s tennis—but he is also the tour’s reigning Adonis. Later, at his hotel, he fought off a cavalcade of blonde tween-age girls, whose bronzed and brazen mothers asked, one after another, if he would hit a few balls with their daughters. Dimitrov could not have been gentler in his refusal. “You say no with a smile,” he explained.
Perhaps he learned this from his very own California blonde (by way of Siberia), Maria Sharapova. The two have been dating for a year or so and live together in Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles. “It’s the best thing that could ever happen to you,” Dimitrov says of being part of a tennis power couple. “But it’s not easy. With travel, media, the gym, practice, we hardly see each other. On the other hand, we truly understand each other. We know what sacrifice is.”
When he’s not on the court, Dimitrov races motorcycles. He also loves to dance, though these days that’s a rare pleasure. “It’s nice to go crazy and sort of get everything out of your system,” he says. “But I’ll tell you something funny: I’ve never tried alcohol. I figure I can create my own buzz. Maria gives me a hard time. She’s like, ‘Share a glass of wine with me.’”
At age 14, after training stints in Ojai, California, and in Barcelona, Dimitrov moved to Paris, where he spent the next four and a half years. He credits the city for his love of fashion. “l especially like Lanvin,” he says. “Since I was really young, I always knew how I wanted things to look. I’d love to have a line of tennis clothes, something unique and different. But I won’t say more because it’s a work in progress, and if it ever comes out, I want it to be like, boom!”
At the moment, Dimitrov is focused on climbing the ranks. And like the pundits who have long called him Baby Fed—an acknowledgment of the agile game he shares with his hero Roger Federer—Dimitrov believes that the No. 1 ranking is within his grasp. “The biggest pressure is what I put on myself,” he says. “I care less about what happens match to match because my goals are way higher, and there’s work to be done.”
Still, as his girlfriend knows better than anyone, big tennis stars must also play the fame game. Dimitrov insists that he’s happier out of the limelight. “I like to stay away from that red carpet world unless I absolutely have to do it,” he says. “I’d rather put on my Tom Ford suit and take a few pictures at home.”