Lloyd Harris recorded the best win of his career when he took out the top seed and reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem in round two of the Dubai Duty Free Championships.
[I had] troubles returning his serve, and also way too many easy mistakes from my side, from the baseline. I said a couple of days ago that if I am not playing at my best level, it is not enough against all of the players in the draw Dominic Thiem
The 25-year-old South African qualifier, ranked 81, defeated the Austrian 6-3 6-4 in 72-minutes to earn the first top-ten win of his career, is starting to make a reputation for himself having beaten Stan Wawrinka in Doha last week.
His next opponent is Filip Krajinovic, the 14th seed from Serbia who dispatched Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-5 6-4.
The world No.4 meanwhile, is having to take stock of the situation.
“I just need to reset myself a little bit to really go fresh into the clay season. “Obviously right now I’m in a tough period and just it wouldn’t be the right thing to go to Miami,” Thiem, who also fell as the top seed in the quarter-finals of Doha, said.
“Just make a little reset, regroup and hopefully have a good clay season. After these tough weeks, that’s my main goal now.
“Right now I’m not in the greatest shape in any way.
“[I had] troubles returning his serve, and also way too many easy mistakes from my side, from the baseline. I said a couple of days ago that if I am not playing at my best level, it is not enough against all of the players in the draw.”
In contrast Harris was delighted with his victory.
“I’m super, super happy with that win. [He is] by far the highest-ranked player I have beaten,” the Springbok said in his on-court interview.
“I look up to Domi a lot so, for me, it is a special feeling. I am really happy. Just the fact that I am playing good tennis, match in, match out now is giving me a lot of confidence.”
On the actual match which he dominated with his serve, Harris added: “I was serving really well. I don’t think I faced any break points.
“I took control of those games and [in] one or two games on his serve, I gave myself a good look. I played some of the important points very well. I am very proud of that.”
Meanwhile, Andrey Rublev, the Russian second seed, cruised past the Finnish qualifier, Emil Ruusuvuori 6-4 6-4 to extend his winning streak at 500-level events to 21 matches.
He has won his last four events at this level dating back to Hamburg last September and following his victory over the Finn, joined Alexander Zverev in criticising the current ATP ranking system.
Zverev, the German world No.7, recently described the revised system as “absurd” because he is ranked lower than Roger Federer even though the Swiss missed an entire year due to knee surgery, while he has been active.
“If we would have the normal system, I would be like No.4 in the world I think. So what do you think is better for me, to be No.8 or No.4?” Rublev replied when asked to comment on Zverev’s comments.
“With the system that we’re having now, for me, it’s much tougher to be No.4, so here is the answer.”
Rublev’s next opponent is the American 15th seed Taylor Fritz who avenged his Doha quarter-final defeat to Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili – who went on to win the title – 4-6 6-3 7-6(4).
Canadian world No. 12 Denis Shapovalov voiced his own displeasure at current protocols and announced he plans to compete in fewer tournaments this season if the tennis tour continues to operate under strict coronavirus bubble conditions for players.
Shapovalov, who enjoyed a winning debut in Dubai thanks to a 6-1 6-3 second-round success over German big-server Jan-Lennard Struff, says being confined to a hotel room at every tournament due to pandemic restrictions can take a mental toll on players.
“I definitely don’t want to play too much this year if it’s going to be a bubble life because it is extremely difficult mentally to be locked up like this,” the 21-year-old said.
“Of course it’s amazing to play, but as the weeks go on, you kind of lose that passion for tennis and a lot of players are struggling with that. So we’re trying to take the approach of minimising that as much as possible and just enjoying every match that I do go out and play this year.”
In other second round action, Kei Nishikori defeated the 5th seeded David Goffin 6-3 7-6(3) and faces Aljaz Bedene next, the Slovenian having beaten Italy’s Lorenzo Giustino, a late replacement for Croatian Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3.
Karen Khachanov also advanced to the third round by outclassing Singapore champion from Australia Alexei Popyrin 6-4 3-6 7-6(4) in two hours and 16 minutes.
The Russian will meet Frenchman Jeremy Chardy for a place in the quarter-finals.
Italy’s rising star Jannik Sinner came back from one set down to beat Kazhak Alexander Bublik 2-6 7-6(2) 6-4 after 2 hours and goes on to face Spain’s fourth seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, the Doha finalist.