DUBAI 19 March 2021: Aslan Karatsev and Lloyd Harris made tournament history on Thursday as they advanced into the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“Since 1998 only one wildcard had reached the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, 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 final four with a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2 win over 16th seed Jannick Sinner, and Harris overcame Kei Nishikori 6-1 3-6 6-3. They were joined by second seed Andrey Rublev, who edged past Marton Fucsovics 7-5 6-2 and third seed Denis Shapovalov who overcame Jeremy Chardy 7-5 6-4. In Friday’s semi-finals, Shapovalov will play Harris and Rublev will face Karatsev.
“We have enjoyed four thrilling quarter-final battles featuring tennis of the highest quality,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We congratulate Aslan Karatsev and Lloyd Harris on their wonderful achievements, and Denis Shapovalov and Andrey Rublev on also reaching the semi-finals, and it will be fascinating to see who goes on to reach Saturday’s final.”
Sinner made the early running against Karatsev, breaking for 2-0 and building a 4-1 lead. And, although Karatsev broke back in the seventh game, it was Sinner who took the tiebreak. The second set saw the tables turned, as in an 11-minute second game Karatsev took a 2-0 lead on his fifth break point, and that was enough to level the match.
In the third set, after an early exchange of breaks Karatsev crucially fought off two break points to hold for 2-2 and from then on 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 totally dominated the opening set, taking it in just 23 minutes and winning 69 per cent of the points.
But in a remarkable turnaround, Nishikori then swept to a 4-0 lead in the second set, and in the final set held a break point to lead 1-0 and another to lead 4-3 before Harris earned a vital break to lead 5-3 and then safely served out the match.
“It was a match of a lot of up and downs,” Harris admitted. “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. Towards 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 to gain an advantage over Fucsovics in the first set, but benefited when his opponent double-faulted to gift him the opening set. Fucsovics, who was also recently defeated by Rublev in the Rotterdam final, then grew increasingly frustrated in the second set as Rublev continued to apply pressure and claimed a 3-1 lead on his fifth break point of the set.
The victory extends his ATP 500 winning streak to 23 matches, with his last defeat at this level coming in Dubai last year against Daniel Evans in the quarter-finals. 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. And then he got frustrated and I thought this is my moment, that I really have a chance to win the set now,” said Rublev. “I made it and then I think he mentally went a bit down. Also he was tired because he played already many matches 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, and he was also a quarter-finalist this month in Rotterdam. In contrast, Shapovalov has struggled, losing both of his matches at the ATP Cup, getting no further than the third round at the Australian Open and then winning just one match last week in Doha.
This week, though, has not reflected their previous experiences this season. The pair had taken contrasting paths to the quarter-finals, with Shapovalov winning his previous two matches this week in straight sets while Chardy had struggled in all three of his matches, each time edging through 6-4 in the third set.
Games in the first set went comfortably with serve until 5-5, when Chardy struggled with his serve, struck two double faults and allowed Shapovalov to take advantage of his 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 and closed out the match with his 10th ace.
“It was just a couple of points here and there,” said Shapovalov. “I feel I had a couple more looks on his serve, not too many, but I was able to capitalise on the chances that I had and that was really big. I was able to play the games on my serve pretty freely which helped put more pressure on him.”
The left-handed Canadian won 26 of his 28 points on serve, and that was the result of a lot of recent hard work.
“I’ve definitely focused on my serve a lot the last couple of weeks and trying for it to have more variation, and I’m definitely very happy with the way I’m serving and hopefully I can continue that,” said Shapovalov. “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.”
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