SOFIA Grigor Dimitrov has been hailed as Bulgaria's new sports hero by local media after the 21-year-old pulled off a stunning upset over world tennis number one Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Open on Tuesday.
Dimitrov, the youngest of the six players aged 23 or under in the top 50, battled through cramp to seal a shock 7-6 6-7 6-3 win in the second round and became the first Bulgarian to beat a player occupying the world's top spot.
"Bulgarian sport found its new hero after Hristo Stoichkov," newspaper Trud wrote on Wednesday.
Dimitrov, ranked 28th in the world, became hugely popular in the Balkan country after winning junior titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2008.
The three Maleeva sisters - Manuela, Katerina and Magdalena, who took turns to feature in the world's top six in the 1980s and 1990s - made the women's game successful in Bulgaria.
However, only a couple of years ago, Orlin Stanoytchev was still the highest-ranked Bulgarian male player after reaching world number 96 in 2000.
"(Dimitrov) made everyone understand that he has not only talent but also a character that will turn him into one of the biggest stars in tennis," said sports website www.sportal.bg, adding that the player had received raucous support from the fans during the game.
"The 21-year-old Bulgarian beat the best tennis player in the world over the last three years and achieved the biggest win of his career in an impressive tennis spectacle that lasted more than three hours," the Dnevnik report said, calling Dimitrov "phenomenal".
"Grigor made us proud to be Bulgarians," said Bulgarian tennis federation president Stefan Tsvetkov. "It's an incredible win and it can only be compared with the victories of our national (soccer) team in 1994."
The Bulgarian team reached the 1994 World Cup semi-finals in the United States after a famous win over Germany, with Stoichkov becoming the tournament's joint top scorer with six goals.
Dimitrov will play either 15th-seeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka or Colombia's Santiago Giraldo for a place in the Madrid quarter-finals.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Clare Fallon)