Young talent: Grigor Dimitrov, 21, of Bulgaria plays a backhand against Marcos Baghdatis, whom he beat in their semi-final match on Saturday in Brisbane. Photo: Getty Images
BERNARD Tomic was once the youngest player in the men's top 50, but that distinction now rests with Grigor Dimitrov, the flashy 21-year-old Bulgarian who will contest his maiden ATP World Tour final at the Brisbane International against top seed and defending champion Andy Murray.
As the disturbing spate of January injury withdrawals continued - the latest, Kei Nishikori, retiring with right knee tendonitis while trailing Murray 6-4, 2-0 - so did the bold progress of 48th-ranked Dimitrov, who had lost his previous four career semi-finals before beating Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5).
The pair embraced warmly after an entertaining contest over more than two hot and humid hours, also helping to validate Dimitrov's switch to the Swedish tennis academy run by former players Mikael Tillstrom, Magnus Norman and Nicklas Kulti late last year.
His talent is unquestioned, but it also largely unfulfilled, so this is the ideal start to a new year that may finally deliver what many expected would arrive some time ago.
''The years are rolling and you don't want to be stuck at a certain spot, so you got to try things until you actually find the right formula for it,'' said Dimitrov, who considers his endurance already much improved. ''I felt it was time for me to change and experience something new.''
Persistent comparisons with Roger Federer had not been burdensome, he insisted.
''Weighing me down? What for? No, not at all. Total opposite. People can judge anyway, right? Roger is Roger; I'm me. I haven't won a title yet even though I'm in the final … For the moment I'm just going, week-by-week for now to really establish myself this year, 2013, on the tour, and then run for the rest.
''Of course I been showing here and there matches that I played, well, outrageous tennis, and I've had matches where I felt like, 'OK, I go on court and everything is on.' But you have these matches four or five times a year. That doesn't make you any better player. I think talent doesn't win matches.''
Murray has already nominated Tomic as his player-to-watch from the emerging young pack, but also admires Dimitrov's varied game. ''He can play a lot of shots. He's one of the few guys coming through that's got a single-handed backhand as well, so he uses a lot more slice than the others,'' Murray said. ''He's obviously played well this week. I think he served pretty well the majority of the week. It's obviously a big, big win for him today.''
The other issue in Brisbane has been the stricter policing of the 25-second rule between points, a move prompted by last year's marathon Australian Open final - Baghdatis having been penalised at an unfortunate time during the third set tie-breaker.
Murray supports the move in theory, while suggesting the time limit be stretched to 30 seconds to help players adjust.
''All it takes is a shoelace to come undone and you're out of time. Guys have been getting warnings when they change their racquet for breaking a string or whatever,'' said the world No. 3. ''I like that there is a time violation in there. I think it'll be good. But I think starting off with 25 seconds at the beginning was a bit too much.''
Nishikori, who came out swinging to lead 4-1 but then failed to win another game, said he hoped to take his place in the AAMI Classic field at Kooyong to test the injury on Wednesday, but could not be sure he would be fit for the Australian Open, where he reached the quarter-finals last year.