The final of the Dubai Duty Free will go down in the record books as the first time the title will be contested between a wildcard entry and a qualifier with both Aslan Karatsev and Lloyd Harris respectively reaching the first 500 championship round of their careers.
Obviously as the match went on it went a bit better, I think honestly it was just fatigue but once it got heated up a little bit it felt better as the match went along and right now I am feeling OK. Lloyd Harris
First to make it there was Harris, the South African, who defeated Denis Shapovalov 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(6) after looking to be on the verge of defeat with the Canadian leading by a set and 4-2.
The Springbok then took full advantage of the situation when the third seed’s focus wavered, to string together four consecutive games to level the match and, while Shapovalov fought back strongly in the decider, Harris matched him on serve to hold firm until the tie break when the Canadian just missed an attempted winner with a backhand down the line while trying to save the second match-point he faced.
The world No.81, who required medical attention halfway through the first set to have his right thigh taped and receive some pain killers, has now won – including qualifying – seven matches in as many days to make history at the ATP 500 tournament which included victories over the world No.4 and top seed, Dominic Thiem and Kei Nishikori, before stopping Shapovalov’s run in their two hour 41-minute semi.
“I don’t have many words right now, I’m super happy of course that win, being a set down, 4-2 down is mentally and physically was a little bit troublesome for me, I kinda found my best tennis from there so I am extremely happy with the result right now,” Harris said during his on court interview after firing 12 aces and 28 winners during their classic clash.
“Obviously as the match went on it went a bit better, I think honestly it was just fatigue but once it got heated up a little bit it felt better as the match went along and right now I am feeling OK.
“I mean this is what I am working for, this is what I am putting in the hard yards for, I’ve been kinda waiting for results like this so to have many of them in one week is a fantastic feeling and now I got one more match to go.”
His match preceded the all-Russian confrontation where the second seed Andrey Rublev, unbeaten in his previous four ATP 500 events and on a 23-match winning streak, was expected to come through against Aslan Karatsev.
But Karatsev turned the tables and that didn’t surprise many for he has been doing just that for the last few weeks, ever since he made the semi finals of the Australian Open.
Rublev didn’t seem to have an answer for the power which his compatriot could generate from his racket and was very much on the back foot from the outset as he bludgeoned his way into the final after two hours and 12-minutes, 6-2 4-6 6-4 with an ace on his second match point.
He basically beat his fellow Muscovite by playing him at his own game, striking early in the rallies and keeping him behind the baseline for lengthy periods while hitting 41 winners and forcing 16 break points during the encounter to become the first wild card to reach the Dubai final since Austria’s Thomas Muster in 1997.
“It was a really tight match [against a] tough opponent,” Karatsev said in his on-court interview.
“It was an unbelievable performance [from Andrey]. He didn’t lose a match at an ATP 500 in [one year]. Everything was decided in one or two points, I feel happy.
“In the second set, I got tight a bit. He took the opportunity, he broke me and took the set,” said Karatsev.
“In the third set, I broke him back. I was leading with two breaks and then again, at 5-4 [it was a] tight game.”
Karatsev, who has now established an 11-2 win-loss record this year, will hope to improve that on Saturday.
“I will prepare myself mentally and physically, and then we will see what happens tomorrow,” said Karatsev. “I know [Lloyd] is a good player with experience.”