For a player as experienced as Grigor Dimitrov, once touted as the next big thing, he knows about hard graft and, ultimately, beginning to fulfill potential.

The former World No. 3 believes Jannik Sinner, whom be beat 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Friday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, should follow his own path and not get carried away by the hype surrounding the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion.

“I always say until you become a champion, you can’t say you’re a champion,” said Dimitrov. “This is, I would say, one of the biggest mistakes when I was upcoming, when everyone was telling me, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a champion one day. You’re going to be No. 1.’

“I never listen to those things. He should not listen to all of that. He should follow his way. I have noticed a few of his games in the past year, even when he played in the Next Gen [ATP Finals]. What I like [is that] he’s already a very strong guy, meaning his legs are very strong already for his age. So, I feel, he can only get better.

“I think Riccardo [Piatti] is doing a great job with him. I think time can only tell for him. I think that’s just how it is… I think on hard [courts] he’s playing really well. Even on clay today, I thought it was a very good match on his end.”

Sinner, 19, was attempting to become the first Italian teenager to reach the Rome quarter-finals at the Foro Italico.

Dimitrov was a successful junior, winning the 2008 Wimbledon and US Open junior titles, but he didn’t compile his best season as a pro until 2017, when he captured his first ATP Masters 1000 crown at the Western & Southern Open (d. Kyrgios) and lifted the biggest trophy of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals (d. Goffin).

“When I was 19, 20, or 21, I was this skinny kid that didn’t have enough of my body to be able to compete against the big guys,” said 29-year-old Dimitrov. “Now, all of a sudden, you come out and you have these guys, they are 19, 20, 21, [and] already so well developed that this already plays a big role in the game.

“But I always say tennis is not a sprint. Tennis is a marathon. It’s going to be here and there, you’re going to have matches that you’re just going to win with experience.

“I think, in a way, that’s what happened today. I know what it is to be 19 years old and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You come out and you’re so loose in your shots and you make unbelievable plays at the toughest times.

“For the older guys, it’s not the easiest sort of way to compete against. For sure, we’re going to have more pressure, but that’s… why this suits us a little bit more, because we can lean on the experience. We can kind of go deep down in that zone and be more aware of whatever situation we need to face.”

Dimitrov will next face No. 12 seed Denis Shapovalov on Saturday, attempting to reach the Rome semi-finals for a second time (also 2014).

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