Under the Patronage of H.h. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
Dominic Thiem in action in the second round of the 2021 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
March 16, 2021 – DUBAI, UAE: Top seed Dominic Thiem was stunned by qualifier Lloyd Harris in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday, falling 6-3 6-4 in just 72 minutes.
The reigning US Open champion and world number four was bidding to become the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1997 to lift the trophy. But he had been wary of his chance of making an impact this week, claiming the speed of the court didn’t suit his game. He has also struggled this season, advancing no further than the fourth round of the Australian Open and then losing in the Doha quarter-finals last week to Roberto Bautista Agut.
Just one break in each set separated the pair, but the power and accuracy of the South African’s serve always gave him the upper hand and, after earning his first win over a top 20 opponent last week with victory over Stan Wawrinka, he added an even bigger scalp in Thiem.
“I had trouble returning his serve and there were way too many mistakes from my side from the baseline,” said Thiem. “Like I said a couple of days ago, I’m not at my best level. It’s not enough against all the players in the draw, actually. I need to reset myself a little bit, to go fresh into the clay season.”
Second seed Andrey Rublev moved safely though into the third round and he was joined by number three seed Denis Shapovalov and fourth seed and 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut. Rublev overcame qualifier Emil Ruusuvuori 6-4 6-4, Shapovalov dominated Jan-Lennard Struff to win 6-1 6-3 and Bautista Agut advanced when Matthew Ebden retired with the Spaniard leading 4-1.
Rublev was satisfied with his performance against his match-hardened opponent.
“It was definitely a tough match,” said Rublev. “It was my first match here and Emil played through qualies and he won first round so he got used to the conditions. It was close, especially some moments in the second set, and I’m really happy the way I played today. I was serving quite well and I like so much that I was aggressive and controlling the speed. There were few rallies, but I defended really well with the slices, getting the ball back and I was able to win the rally.”
Shapovalov could have been forgiven for feeling a sense of despair when he saw the draw as he had lost the last four matches he had played against his opponent, with his lone victory coming in 2018. But he was on the front foot right from the start and never looked in any danger of conceding his advantage.
His turnaround in fortunes was at least partly due to having former two-time Dubai runner-up Mikhail Youzhny in his coaching corner.
“Misha told me the balls would be flying but that pretty much suits my game. From the first practise I was able to feel the court well,” said Shapovalov, who is making his debut in Dubai this week. “I knew it was a very difficult match. I’ve had difficulties with him in the past, so I knew it was going to be a tough match for me, but I feel any match is a new match and it’s always starting from zero zero, so the past doesn’t really mean much.
“I definitely played very well. I was just trying to pick my target on my serve to be honest, playing the way I’ve been playing in practise. I didn’t really change my game plan compared to the other times I played him.”
“Denis Shapovalov is one of many players who chooses to spend time practising in Dubai as they love the climate and world-class facilities that are available, but this is the first time that he has taken part in the tournament,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We are delighted that he has chosen to do so and wish him well in the days ahead.”
While Shapovalov was able to turn the tables on his rival, fifth seed David Goffin was not. He had failed to defeat Kei Nishikori in all three of their previous meetings, and Nishikori claimed a nervous fourth victory 6-3 7-6(3). Nishikori was broken twice when serving for the match, at 5-4 and 6-5, before dominating the tiebreak. Sixth seed Pablo Carreno Busta also fell, losing 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2 to Marton Fucsovics, and Malek Jaziri’s tournament was ended 7-5 6-2 by 11th seed Dusan Lajovic.
Photos: Day 3 Gallery
Aslan Karatsev continued his remarkable run of success since the season began by overcoming number 12 seed and 2020 semi-finalist Dan Evans 6-4 4-6 6-4.
The tournament wild card was the sensation of the recent Australian Open, where he won eight matches to advance all the way from the qualifying rounds to the semi-finals, when his run was ended by eventual champion Novak Djokovic. His only other defeat this year came last week in Doha to world number four and Dubai top seed Dominic Thiem, although as consolation he won the doubles with Andrey Rublev.
It took Karatsev two hours 22 minutes to overcome a resilient Evans. The Russian ended a run of three successive first set breaks by leading 4-3, and fortunes swung one way and then the other in the second set as Evans rallied from 2-4 to level the match. The final set was even more closely contested, with Karatsev breaking in the first game but then having to fight off two break points as he served out the match.
Eighth seed Karen Khachanov was stretched to the limit by tournament wild card Alexei Popyrin, edging through 6-4 3-6 7-6(4) after a gruelling two hours 16 minutes. Popyrin won the first title of career last month in Singapore, and once worked as a ball kid at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“Andrei Popyrin took his far more experienced opponent to the very edge of defeat and he is very much a face of the future,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “It has been a great pleasure to welcome him back to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as a player, and we look forward to seeing him here again for many years to come. We also look forward to seeing Dominic Thiem in Dubai once again, and wish him well for the rest of the season.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, continues until 20th March.