DUBAI 20 March 2021: Aslan Karatsev continued his incredible run of victories this season by edging past second seed Andrey Rublev 6-2 4-6 6-4 on Friday to reach the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. The tournament wild card will now play qualifier Lloyd Harris, who claimed an equally stunning 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(6) upset victory over third seed and world number 12 Denis Shapovalov.
“Nobody at the beginning of the week would have predicted that our 2021 final would be between a qualifier and a tournament wild card, but both Aslan Karatsev and Lloyd Harris both fully deserve their opportunity to play for the trophy,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “They have produced performances of the very highest quality throughout the week, and we can surely look forward to a wonderful match on Saturday.”
“Yet again, as has happened so many times over the past two weeks, we have been on the edge of our seat and enjoyed some magnificent entertainment,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.
“We congratulate Lloyd Harris on his impressive achievement in reaching the final, where he will attempt to become the first player from South Africa to win the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships since Wayne Ferreira defeated an opponent who is now Chairman of the ATP Tour, Andrea Gaudenzi, in 1995. At the same time, Aslan Karatsev will be attempting to become the first Russian to win the title here.”
Both semi-finals kept everyone guessing until the final seconds what the outcome would be. Karatsev, who recently made a sensational and record breaking run from the qualifying rounds to the semi-final of the Australian Open, surprised Rublev in the opening set with excellent serving, and two breaks earned him the first set with surprising ease.
Rublev found himself in trouble again at 3-3 in the second set when he had to fight off four break points, but he was able to level the match at one set all when, assisted by two double faults from his opponent, he broke for 6-4. In a tense final set, Rublev doubled faulted on Karatsev’s sixth break point at 1-1, and Karatsev appeared to be home and dry when he broke once more to lead 5-2. But Rublev dug deep against his nervous opponent, broke serve and then held two more break points to level at 5-5 before Karatsev finally got over the line on his second match point.
“From the beginning it was a pretty good match,” said Karatsev. “I started well, played aggressive, he didn’t feel comfortable on the baseline. In the second set there was many chances to break him. At 5-4 I got tight a bit and he closed the set, and in the third set I was leading with two breaks and I got tight at 5-2. 5-4 was a close game and anything can happen. You can get tight and nervous, but I closed the match in the end and I’m very happy.”
The other semi-final was just as closely fought. It took two hours 41 minutes to resolve the battle between Harris and Shapovalov, and again the outcome was in the balance right up until the final ball. Shapovalov began in intimidating fashion with two aces in the opening game, and things looked grim for Harris when he called for medical attention at the end of the seventh game and had his right thigh taped.
But despite the strain of having played seven matches in seven days, the world number 81 continued to match his opponent ball for ball to take the set to a tiebreak, which Shapovalov edged 7-5.
When Shapovalov held three break points to lead 2-1 and then broke with his fourth opportunity to lead 3-2 and hold for 4-2 in the second set it appeared as if Harris’s impressive run was going to come to an end. But Shapovalov instead inexplicably allowed Harris off the hook, double-faulting to let his opponent level at 4-4 and then again on set point at 5-4.
The final set, like the first. saw neither player earn a break point as it progressed to a tiebreak, which Harris won on his second match point.
“It was a very difficult one of course,” said Harris, who earlier in the week had overcome the barrier that was top seed and world number four Dominic Thiem. “It literally came down to one or two points. I felt like I was competing super hard in that third set breaker. I got in some good serves. It was one heck of a battle and I’m just happy to get through that.”
Having played so much tennis this week, Harris still hopes he’ll have more to give in the final.
“It’s been a lot of matches, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “But if you’re playing a final you find some energy. I’m going to give it every single piece of energy that I have in the tank. I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully I can come out and play even better tennis tomorrow.”