HE MAY HAVE an early exit at the French Open, but the tennis world has no doubts about Grigor Dimitrov. At 23, he's the youngest player ranked in the top 25 -- here are four reasons tennis's top tier might have finally found a worthy successor.
1. He's outgrown the baby label.
He doesn't like to hear it, but Dimitrov has a deadly but graceful playing style that looks a lot like ... "The first time I heard 'Baby Federer,' I was maybe 16," Dimitrov says. "After that it sort of took off. At first it was funny. Then it was irritating. Now I try to ignore it." But that doesn't mean he's distancing himself from the GOAT. Last year he signed with Roger Federer's boutique sports agency, Team8. "In order to be the best," he says, "you have to be around the best."
2. He's actually living up to the hype.
When the year started, Dimitrov was ranked 23rd with one title. Entering the French, he was No. 12 with three titles. "We have 36 players over the age of 30 in the top 100, which is an all-time high, and we only have one teen in the top 200," says ATP director of media information Greg Sharko. "It's hard for young guys to win on tour, but he's finding a way to do it. That's one of the reasons so many people are looking at him."
3. The top-ranked players love him.
In Rome, Andy Murray grabbed a brush and blow-dryer to playfully fix Dimitrov's hair for the cameras. At Indian Wells, Novak Djokovic took time out of his day to crash Dimitrov's news conference, telling the roomful of journalists, "My friend Grigor here, best-looking guy on tour." For the Brit and the Serb -- both of whom Dimitrov has defeated -- to acknowledge his appeal publicly speaks volumes about how fondly the rising star is perceived in the locker room.
4. And the ladies can't get enough of him.
"Grigor is the best thing to ever happen in my life," Maria Sharapova says between sighs about her boyfriend of a year and a half. "I love him so much." (Prior to Sharapova, Dimitrov dated a player by the name of Serena.) Dimitrov moved into the Russian ace's LA home last year, and one can't help notice the timing between their dating and his rise. "People who think I'm the reason he's playing so well do not give him enough credit," she says.