Denis Shapovalov became the first player to book his place in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Championships and then followed up on his previous comments on the mental problems facing players having to play events whilst being restricted to Covid safe bubbles, by pointing out that the low level of prize money on offer is one of the reasons for so many withdrawals.
We have other obligations from sponsors, contracts that obligate us to play as well, so for sure that's definitely one reason why a lot of players are still playing, because, otherwise, I feel like a lot of players just wouldn't play at all Denis Shapovalov
There were seven withdrawals for the Dubai event and currently, four for next week’s Miami Masters.
“I definitely think there’s going to be a lot of withdrawals and a lot of people not going to tournaments because the prize money is low,” the Canadian third seed said.
“In a way it’s not motivating to play every week and play all the big tournaments because there’s not really a lot in it for us other than the slams at this point, that are paying just as much or better, like in Australia this year,” he added.
He points out that players are self-employed or ‘independent contractors’ and their earnings come from competing and how successful they are.
He also added: “We have other obligations from sponsors, contracts that obligate us to play as well, so for sure that’s definitely one reason why a lot of players are still playing, because, otherwise, I feel like a lot of players just wouldn’t play at all.”
Shapovalov’s earlier comments re ‘bubbles’ and now the prize money levels, no doubt was behind his decision to reduce the number of tournaments he plays this year, though he did concede the ‘bubble’ in Dubai was probably the best he’d experienced so far.
And he has shown his appreciation by running through to the last four with a 7-5 6-4 victory over the veteran Frenchman Jeremy Chardy striking 26 winners including 10 aces past him as he chases his second ATP title and first at 500-level.
“It was a tough match as Jeremy was serving and playing well,” said Shapovalov on arriving in his first semi-final since October 2020.
“I am really happy that I was able to convert the break points. It helps to play three straight set matches and I feel fresh and ready to go.”
The world No.12 will play next the South African qualifier Lloyd Harris, who beat top-seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem earlier in the week who in turn, defeated Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-1 3-6 6-3 for his place.
Harris, the world No.81, continues to impress as he becomes the first qualifier to reach the last four in Dubai dispatching the former world No.4 from Japan in 97-minutes, for the first semi-final of his career.
“I have a few matches under my belt now,” said Harris. “It’s starting to feel like my home court. I am really enjoying it out here and played really well on the break points.”
Nishikori admitted, “He took the chance at the end and served well for sure. I have a couple of chances, but he hit his forehand and backhand well.”
The 24-year-old Springbok hit 34 winners and when asked about what he put his good form down to, and his next opponent, Harris responded: “I think I’ve spent more time on the Tour now and built confidence. Denis has played some fantastic, dynamic tennis and it will be a tough challenge.”
Meanwhile in the bottom half the semi-final slots have been filled by Russians.
Aslan Karatsev, who has burst onto the scene at 27-years-of age, continued his own impressive run by making the last four at 500-level for the first time in his career.
He hit 41 winners in the two-hour 30-minute it took him to post a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2 victory over No. 16 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy and become only the second wildcard to reach the Dubai semi-finals, since Tunisia’s Malik Jaziri three years ago.
“It was tough at the beginning as he is a really talented guy,” said Karatsev, who on his debut made the semi-finals at this year’s Australian Open, another first.
“In the tie-break I was a little unlucky. I felt more comfortable in the second set and knew how to play against him.”
While he is one of the current inform players, so is his compatriot Andrey Rublev who he must overcome if he is to make any further progress.
The second-seeded Rublev, the title favourite, extended his winning streak at 500-level tournaments to 23 consecutive matches after he overcame Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-5 6-2 in what was their third meeting in as many weeks.
The 23-year-old has dropped just five sets throughout that run that saw him clinch four ATP 500 crowns since last September and he is well on course to collect his fifth.
“I played really well these last three matches. I’ve never shown that level here in Dubai before and I’m really happy I’m doing well and I’m winning,” said the No.2 seed.
The question now is whether he will go on to win that fifth 500-level title.