DUBAI: Qualifier Lloyd Harris made tournament history on Thursday as he advanced to the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. And Aslan Karatsev became one of the few wild cards to reach the final four in the 28-year history of the event.
“Since 1998, only one wild card had reached the semi-finals of the (event), when Malek Jaziri defeated fellow wild card Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2018, and now we applaud another similar and remarkable achievement by Aslan Karatsev,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak.
“Lloyd Harris is also the first qualifier, since the tournament began in 1993, to reach the semi-finals here, and we look forward to seeing how both he and Karatsev fare on Friday.”
Karatsev reached the semis with a 6-7 6-3 6-2 win over 16th seed Jannik Sinner. Harris overcame Kei Nishikori 6-1 3-6 6-3. They are joined by second seed Andrey Rublev, who defeated Marton Fucsovics 7-5 6-2, and third seed Denis Shapovalov, who beat Jeremy Chardy 7-5 6-4. Shapovalov will play Harris, while Rublev faces Karatsev.
Sinner made the early running against Karatsev, breaking to go 2-0 ahead before building a 4-1 lead. Karatsev broke back in the seventh game of the opening set but it was Sinner who took the tiebreak.
In the second set the tables were turned: Karatsev took a 2-0 lead after winning an 11-minute game on his fifth break point. That set him up to go on and level the match.
After an early exchange of breaks in the third set, Karatsev crucially fought off two break points to hold serve and make it 2-2. From then on he always held the upper hand against his discouraged opponent.
“I started to play better in the second set,” said Karatsev. “I started to feel more the game, to read how he’s playing and where is the weak place where I have to play. In the third set I felt he already dropped down a bit. I was feeling pretty much comfortable returning.”
Harris came through an extraordinary battle with Nishikori who, after suffering a frustrating series of injuries, was attempting to reach his first semi-final since Barcelona in April 2019. Harris dominated the opening set, taking it in just 23 minutes and winning 69 per cent of the points.
But in a remarkable turnaround, Nishikori swept to a 4-0 lead in the second set on the way to taking it 6-3. In the final set the games went with serve until Harris earned a vital break to lead 5-3 and then safely served out the match.
“It was a match of a lot of ups and downs,” Harris said. “In the first set I think Kei was missing quite a bit and I was serving really well, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere he started reading my serve pretty good and started making a lot more balls, and I didn’t really have a good rhythm.
“Toward the end of the second set I started to find a little more range and we had a few tight games there, early in the third set, before I found a little more rhythm and I used that to get the break.”
Rublev had to work hard in the early stages of his match to gain an advantage over Fucsovics but benefited when his opponent double-faulted to gift him the opening set. Fucsovics, who was recently defeated by Rublev in the Rotterdam final of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, grew increasingly frustrated in the second set as Rublev continued to apply pressure and claimed a decisive 3-1 lead on his fifth break point of the set.
The victory extends his ATP 500 winning streak to 23 matches; his last defeat at this level was in the quarter-finals in Dubai last year to Daniel Evans. Only Roger Federer, with 28 wins, has a longer winning streak.
“That first set, we were going point by point and everything was really close until 6-5 when, probably, he got a bit tight,” said Rublev. “And then he got frustrated and I thought this is my moment, that I really have a chance to win the set now. I made it and then I think he mentally went a bit down. Also he was tired because he played already many matches (to) three sets this week.”
Chardy was bidding to reach his third semi-final of the season, following runs in Antalya and at an Australian warm-up event in Melbourne. He was also a quarter-finalist this month in Rotterdam. In contrast, Shapovalov has been struggling. He lost both of his matches at the ATP Cup, got no further than the third round at the Australian Open and then won only one match last week in Doha.
Their records this season are not reflected in their performances this week, however — Shapovalov won his previous two matches in Dubai in straight sets, while Chardy struggled in all three of his, each time edging through 6-4 in the third set.
When they met on Thursday the first set went comfortably with serve until 5-5, when Chardy struggled with his serve and hit two double faults. This allowed Shapovalov to take advantage of his opponent’s second serve to earn a decisive break, and then serve out the set to love. The second set followed a similar path, with both players holding serve comfortably until 4-4, when Shapovalov broke serve and closed out the match with his 10th ace.
“I’ve definitely focused on my serve a lot in the last couple of weeks, trying for it to have more variation,” said Shapovalov. “I’m definitely very happy with the way I’m serving and hopefully I can continue that. We also worked a lot on my footwork and I’m moving well, and when I’m moving well I feel like everything kind of goes into place.”