A strong field arrived in the United Arab Emirates for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships despite the absence for various reasons, of Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Nick Kyrgios, Matteo Berrettini, Gael Monfils and Stan Wawrinka who all withdrew in the preceding week.
“It is important to serve well and it was a great match. I started well, feeling confident and winning the first set and then I played better in the second set.” Richard Gasquet
As in Doha last week, Dominic Thiem heads the draw with Andrey Rublev, last week’s semi-finalist, filling the second seed’s spot.
Frenchman Richard Gasquet and Japan’s Kei Nishikori were amongst the group of players scheduled for first round matches and both successfully negotiated their way into the next round.
Nishikori, a former top tenner who is currently working his way back onto the tour following an elbow injury, toppled the giant American Reilly Opelka 3-6 6-3 6-4 who, at 6’11”, towered over his opponent by over a foot!
Gasquet meanwhile, joined an exclusive club when he beat Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4 6-2 for his 550th win on the tour.
The Frenchman becomes only the sixth active player to reach that milestone of victories which is headed by the Big Four and Fernando Verdasco.
“I am feeling great here,” Gasquet said in his on-court interview. “I know this court well. I played well [here] last year. It is a fast court. I like to play on it.
“It is important to serve well and it was a great match. I started well, feeling confident and winning the first set and then I played better in the second set.”
The 34-year-old, who handed a walkover to world No.8 Andrey Rublev in the round of 16 in Doha last week, after picking up a leg injury, said he was working his way back to full fitness.
“It’s been a difficult start to the year, and I need confidence and to feel better on court and happy. I couldn’t play in Australia. It’s been very difficult for me and I’m trying my best to recover and when I am fit, I think I can play very well but at the moment, I need to work on it,” the two-time Dubai semi-finalist (2009, 2011) who takes on the 13th seed from Poland, Hubert Hurkacz for a spot in the third round, admitted.
“I hope I can be better tomorrow (Tuesday), running well and feel more confident with my body. It’s the most important thing for me right now and I can play well after that.
“For me the most important thing is to try and feel healthy and be fit and try and win tomorrow.”
Also through to round two is the German Jan Lennard-Struff who struck 16 aces en route to a 6-, 6-2 win against the qualifier from Kazakhstan Mikhail Kukushkin where the world No. 39 will face the third seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
Lloyd Harris also booked a second-round spot where a seeded opponent awaits, the top one! The South African recovered to overcome fellow qualifier from Australia, Christopher O’Connell from a set 6-7(5) 6-4 6-1 and will have tougher contest when he meets Austria’s Dominic Thiem, the US Open champion, next.
In other action, Hungarian Marton Fucsovics also had to rally to overcome Canada’s Vasek Pospisil 2-6 7-5 6-4 to progress for a meeting with the sixth-seeded Pablo Carreno Bustafrom Spain.
Finland’s qualifier Emil Ruusuvuori also progressed by defeating Australian Jordan Thompson 6-3 7-6(5) for a meeting with the second-seeded Rssian Rublev while Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain beat Australia’s John Millman 6-4, 6-4.
Also through are Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene the former deating the Lucky Loser from Moldovia Radu Albot 6-4 6-4 ad the latter allying past the Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri 3-6 6-1 6-4.
One second round match was played which saw France’s Jeremy Chardy dispatch the ninth seed from Australia, Alex de Minaur 2-6 6-3 6-4.