Dimitar Kutrovsky is 23 years old and currently ranked #565. Though he hasn’t played a full year of pro ball to get his ranking up to where it belongs, he’s the Bulgarian #3 player; and when the new rankings are released on Monday, he’ll be within 10 spots of the #2 position in his home country, behind only Grigor Dimitrov. A three-time ITA singles All-American, and one-time doubles All-American with Josh Zavala, “The Bulgarian Nightmare” – as he is now monikered – finished his college career as the winningest player in University of Texas history.
“Tar” (as doubles partner Jack Sock refers to him, among other names), plays a game that is veritably one-of-a-kind on the pro tour: primarily two-handed off both sides (though he can hit one-handed off either), his compact, versatile and all-court style of play packs a surprising punch for someone listed at 5′ 9” and 152 pounds.
(photo courtesy of The Austin Tennis Blog)
I first saw him play at the USA F3 in Weston, and his game caught my eye even though he was losing convincingly to Dennis Zivkovic at the time. Of course, that was the first of about three consecutive amazing comeback victories for the man from Sofia, Bulgaria, which also showed me that you can never count him out. As I said to coach Mike Wolf on the final weekend of the USA F4, every time I watch Dimi play, he shows me something more: ability, variety, intensity, strategy, heart – it’s all there. Mike further confirmed my suspicions by telling me that Kutrovsky goes about things the right way, with the right attitude, and thus sets himself up for success.
On a cloudy day last Friday, I was able to drag Kutrovsky away from supporting his friend and dubs teammate (in the third set, no less), telling him (only half-jokingly) that Jack’s already gotten enough press from my site, and it’s about time he got his own turn in the spotlight. I wanted to be able to know more about the personality of the player whose game I’d come to so admire. Happily, he not only agreed to abandon his friend in his time of need (haha), but he turned out to be a friendly, funny guy as well. Bonus. Here’s what he had to say:
Challenger Tennis: All right. First and foremost: “The Bulgarian Nightmare” – are you happy with this nickname?
Kutrovsky: Yeah. Yeah. Seems fitting. I like it.
Challenger Tennis: What makes you a “nightmare”, would you say?
Kutrovsky: The whole idea behind it was that I want to play in a way that when people see my name in the draw, they’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to play this guy.” So I’m kind of trying to work my way to actually make that happen.
Challenger Tennis: Aha. So, now you’re the Bulgarian #3 – have you heard from Davis Cup at all?
Kutrovsky: I’m actually going in two weeks. (Delinquent interviewer’s note: now it’s more like one week, as this conversation happened about a week ago. You might wanna check my math on that, though.) I’m going to go do the camp and then we’re going to go play against Belarus, so hopefully I can play. I know the guys that are in front of me. I think it’s going to be me and this other guy, if things go well. That’s the plan, hopefully. Hopefully I do well in the camp and show them I’m worthy of playing.
Challenger Tennis: Grigor is definitely playing?
Kutrovsky: Yeah, he’s gonna be. He made the second round of the Australian Open, qualified and won a round, so…
Challenger Tennis: But sometimes the top guys don’t want to play.
Kutrovsky: Oh, no – he’s playing, for sure.
Challenger Tennis: So you got, what, Ignatik and Bury? Those are like the two main guys from Belarus I think?
Kutrovsky: And Max Mirnyi – he’s going to play doubles. So the doubles match might be tough, but they’ve lost, so maybe we’ll just [redacted] (Protective interviewer’s note: at this point, The Nightmare shares potential strategy information that could fall into the “wrong hands” – this being such a popular site amongst the people of Belarus/Bradenton and all.)
Challenger Tennis: Have you seen Uladzimir play before?
Challenger Tennis: One of the main things I cover is the grind of playing lower-tier events – nice as they are (if anyone’s listening). But what is the difference for you playing now as opposed to playing in college? Is there a huge adjustment to make as far as not having your team with you, etc?
Kutrovsky: Well, one thing is, you have to do several matches in a row instead of one match a week, so that’s kind of an adjustment. I played before college a little bit, but the last four years I’ve only done college pretty much. So that’s still a little bit of an adjustment, but I’m getting used to it. And there’s just kind of less people – you know, less crowd, less players, less teammates, less people that you travel with, less of everything. You don’t have, like, a trainer and the coaches and everybody just hanging around you.
Challenger Tennis: How do you deal with the down time?
Kutrovsky: Just watch movies, and just do what everybody else does, just in the hotel room, whatever you can do. Because I don’t have that much time to go out and see the sites, because you want to save your energy, and you can’t just go out and do all the fun stuff I guess.
Challenger Tennis: Right, now is (coach) Mike (Wolf) going to travel with you at all?
Kutrovsky: Yeah, I’m going to be traveling with them for this year, at least until September, and then we’ll see what Jack does – if he’s going to college or if he’s going to keep playing pro, or if he’s gonna make a decision. So until the U.S. Open, the plan is to travel together and we’ll see how things develop.
Challenger Tennis: I don’t want to get you in trouble – ’cause I’m sure you and Jack get along well – but is there a challenge in being so much older than him? Does the difference in age, does that cause some…
Kutrovsky: Sure, there’s a difference in age, and he still has high school and has to deal with his high school friends and all that, but I think it’s more tennis related and more friends who are traveling together, the age doesn’t come up that much. It’s not that big of a deal.
Challenger Tennis: [redacted again] (Self-protective interviewer’s note: at this point, our intrepid interviewer (aka yours truly) goes on at length about one of his favorite movies, Slacker, that was filmed in Austin where Kutrovsky went to school. Though Dimi hasn’t seen the film, the interviewer doesn’t shut up about it, talking like an idiot about his favorite flick instead of asking his ostensible interview subject about, I dunno, his favorite movies. Very dumb.)
Challenger Tennis: So what’s the deal with you drinking out the tennis can? (Yet another note: I had written about this alleged phenomenon, but had only just heard about it and never actually seen it.)
Kutrovsky: Oh yeah – I lost my bottle.
Challenger Tennis: Oh – is that all that was?
Kutrovsky: Yeah, when I don’t have a bottle, I just take the can. (Still another note: this used to be my motto in college, too, although it wasn’t water-related specifically; it did pertain to liquids)
Challenger Tennis: I thought it might have been a superstition of yours, or something.
Kutrovsky: No, I don’t have many superstitions. I try to avoid those, ’cause they can get in your way. Sometimes, actually, if there’s a superstition I try to break it as soon as I can so it doesn’t get into my head and mess with my thinking.
Challenger Tennis: Smart. So do you have any ranking goals for this year?
Kutrovsky: I wanna play US Open qualies if possible, so like the 250-300 range. If I could do that, that would be good.
Challenger Tennis: When are you heading to Bulgaria?
Kutrovsky: February 19th.
Challenger Tennis: Where you going until then?
Kutrovsky: I’m just going to stay in Austin and practice a little bit. Get back on hard courts.
After his USA F4 Palm Coast doubles title win with partner Jack Sock, Kutrovsky was asked how his two-handed-off-both-sides game style came to be. “I’ve been playing like that my whole life. I think I had a heavy racquet when I was a kid and I couldn’t swing with one hand. So I started playing with two, and it worked, and I never changed it.”
So, there ya go. But wait a sec – before I end this profile, I want to address a concern I have about you, the reader. I’m hoping that, amongst all the good things I’ve written, you didn’t just see the “5’9” 152 pounds” part of it (or the “23 years old, #565” part of it) and think, “Oh well, there’s the catch – he’ll never go far.”
Call this a character flaw if you must, but I have long been an advocate of all the supposed “lost cause” demographics in men’s tennis. Remember the days when it was said that guys over 6’2” didn’t have the proper movement and center of gravity to even make it in the upper echelons of the ATP? Or that guys who went to four years of college would never pan out as pros? Or if you’re not ranked x by age y then you’ll never be a top player? Those three “truisms” made me pull extra hard for John Isner, and I knew he was still a special player even as he languished in the 100’s during his “sophomore slump” season on the pro circuit. These days, hilariously enough, people are saying you can’t make it to the highest parts of the ATP unless you are above 6’2”.
Another one I hear a lot of is that you can’t “make it” if you’re under 5’10”. This is the big supposed strike against players like Richard Berankis and David Goffin. Gilles Simon is allegedly a “pusher” to some because he only weighs 154 pounds (have the people who say this actually seen some of his in form matches where he’s bossing people like Rafael Nadal all over the court?). At 5′ 9”, Dimi’s going to have to fight against all these preconceived ideals on his way up, and he’s already doing it. The thing is: while you can’t teach size, you also can’t teach hands and heart – and Kutrovsky’s got the latter two in spades.
From what I’ve seen, I’m quite confidant that Kutrovsky can attain his ranking goals for the summer. In which case – keep an eye out for him in USO qualies. His singular style makes him a very entertaining player to watch, and his desire and effort will not leave you feeling short-changed, no matter the result.