PARIS (Reuters) - Claycourt tennis has never come easy for silky Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and his struggle to master the dirt was evident again in a four-hour dogfight with Jared Donaldson in the French Open second round on Wednesday.
Try as he could on a sun-baked Court 18, fourth seed Dimitrov could never tame the 57th-ranked American youngster but he eventually prevailed 6-7(2) 6-4 4-6 6-4 10-8 to collect the 50th Grand Slam win of his career.
Twice he needed to serve to stay in the match in the deciding set before breaking a cramping Donaldson to love in the 15th game, only to drop serve immediately.
Dimitrov broke again, though, at 9-9 and at the second time of asking he brought up match point with his 17th ace and sealed victory with a hefty first serve.
It is only the third time the 27-year-old has reached the third round at Roland Garros in eight attempts and he has never gone further — a surprisingly poor record for a player blessed with such a wide range of weapons.
Things will not get any easier if Dimitrov is to break new ground with Spaniard Fernando Verdasco next up.
“I think it was one of those matches that I didn’t play my best, but I managed a way to win,” Dimitrov said.
“And when one thing wasn’t going well, the physical part was great.”
Donaldson did little wrong and was 0-30 when Dimitrov served at 5-6 in the decider, only for the Bulgarian to unleash a succession of winners to stay alive.
The 21-year-old served an underarm second serve to hold serve in the next game as he was clearly struggling physically but Dimitrov eventually scrambled over the line.
Asked if he had been surprised by an opponent dropping in an underarm serve (Donaldson won the point), Dimitrov said it was a fair tactic.
“I think it was very smart for him to do that,” he said. “I’ve done it once in my career and I think it worked.
“He wanted to use something different to kind of try to put me off guard with that. I know why he did it. He was hurting big time.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond