Malek Jaziri is hoping his big upset over world No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov in the Dubai first round on Tuesday can serve as an inspiration for young Arabs looking to follow in his footsteps.
The Tunisian, currently ranked 117 in the world, took out the top-seeded Dimitrov 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a thrilling encounter in front of a buoyant Dubai crowd.
Aged 34, Jaziri claimed the first top-10 victory of his career having entered the contest with Dimitrov carrying a 0-10 losing record against opposition from that elite bracket.
“I was hearing the cheers from a lot of young Arab kids and after I won I saw how happy they all were for me. I hope that this can show them that us Arabs can compete with and defeat the best players in the world, as long we work hard for it,” Jaziri told Sport360 after the match.
Appearing in the Dubai main draw for a sixth consecutive year, Jaziri was handed a wildcard into this week’s event, and he certainly justified the invitation by taking down Dimitrov. His best appearance here was making the quarter-finals in 2014.
“I feel so good here in Dubai. They gave me a lot of opportunities in the past, like with wild cards. I got a lot of experience, playing top guys here in Dubai. I played last year against Andy Murray, the year before Novak Djokovic, five years ago I played Roger Federer as well. In Dubai, I only played top seeds,” said Jaziri.
“But I knew one day it would happen (and I would get the win).”
Dimitrov arrived in Dubai still dealing with the flu and was not at his best throughout the match.
The Bulgarian, who won the ATP Finals last November, struck 12 double faults which indicates the shoulder problem he picked up at the Australian Open has probably not cleared up.
Still, Dimitrov refused to give excuses during his press conference.
“You have days like this that you can’t really do much else. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play my game to the extent that I was looking for. Movement was not good over the court. I thought I served okay for a little bit, but then I lost my rhythm again,” said Dimitrov.
“Of course, all the credit to Malek. He played a good game. He was strong throughout the whole match. Actually was hitting pretty good shots. I mean, nothing to lose. Also pretty much a lot of luck was on his side, let calls.
“You control what you can control. Tonight, yeah, I couldn’t control anything on my side.”
Asked about his shoulder, the 26-year-old said: “There’s no point to give any excuses right now.
“Honestly, there’s not much else for me to say except I need to keep on going with the same attitude. That’s the only thing I feel like I can really work on right now. I mean, the rest, how the body will feel, all that, again, I can only control what I can control: the rehab, the right amount of treatment, the fitness side, the preventive side for anything. Yeah, all those things are going to come into play.
“So yeah, I mean, that’s about it right now. Also I don’t feel the need to get too down on myself.”
The pair were clinical on serve in the first nine games of the match before Jaziri blinked, double-faulting twice to hand over the opening set to Dimitrov.
The Bulgarian top seed however showed kinks in his serving armour in the second set, double-faulting six times. Jaziri squandered multiple break point opportunities but finally converted to get his first break of the match in game 11 to put himself in the position to serve for the set at 6-5.
It looked like Dimitrov would get the break immediately but a good challenge from Jaziri showed that a ball from his opponent had sailed long and the Tunisian secured the set with a slick passing shot.
Jaziri got a crucial break in the seventh game of the decider to inch ahead and despite seeing two match points slip away on Dimitrov’s serve at 5-3, the North African was unflustered as he wrapped up a memorable victory in two hours and 17 of fast-paced tennis.
“I hope it is a turning point for me. This win of course gives me some much-needed confidence,” said Jaziri, who next takes on Dutchman Robin Haase on Wednesday. “I’ve gone through a rough period, a year ago I was top-50, today I’m outside the top-100. I trusted my coach, even though my results were not going well, but I put my faith in him and I’m sure it will pay off.”
Jaziri’s coach, Christophe Freyss, who worked with Federer in his early junior days, was pleased with his student’s consistency throughout the match.
“For the confidence it’s huge, it’s amazing. Because he went through a tough period, all these weeks, were not bad but not that good too, and I wish this win will give him like the power and the confidence now to break and to come back in the real game,” said Freyss.
Lucas Pouille has described the proposed changes announced by the ITF as a “death sentence” to the Davis Cup, the Frenchman told reporters in Dubai on Tuesday following his opening round win over Ernests Gulbis.
Pouille, who clinched the decisive rubber for France in the Davis Cup final against Belgium at Villeneuve-d’Ascq last November, says the elimination of the home-and-away ties will completely transform the competition into a different concept and that it shouldn’t be considered the same event anymore.
“I think it’s a death sentence of the Davis Cup. They just picked the idea of the ATP of making the World Team Cup again, because it’s exactly the same. It’s during one week, a lot of teams, some money. That’s why they want to do it,” said Pouille.
“But obviously they cannot call it a Davis Cup any more. When you’re not playing at home, or in the country against who you’re playing, then it’s not a Davis Cup. I mean, everybody who lived already a Davis Cup tie know that it’s going to be different, it’s not going to be the same atmosphere any more.
“I think it’s a very bad idea for the Davis Cup.”
A statement on the Davis Cup website was released on Monday announcing “a 25-year, $3 billion partnership with investment group Kosmos that will transform Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and generate substantial revenues for global tennis development”.
The plan to overhaul the Davis Cup will see the home-and-away ties taking place throughout the year disappear and instead, a one-week competition at the end of November will take place in one location featuring 18 nations. The proposal will be voted on in this August’s ITF Annual General Meeting in Orlando, Florida.
Davis Cup has suffered in recent years due to the absence of star players, who have been complaining about its structure.
Pouille, ranked 15 in the world, says the top players are not skipping Davis Cup simply because of its scheduling issues and its format, but because they have their own reasons.
“I’m not sure it’s only about the Davis Cup format, you know. I mean, Roger is playing 13 or 14 tournaments a year. It’s not because of this that he’s not coming to Davis Cup,” said Pouille.
“He won it already. It’s okay. Everybody who won it already, they don’t play any more. Maybe if it was every two or three years, then it will be different.
“But, of course, I mean, we won the Davis Cup end of November. First round we play the beginning of February. I mean, it’s a bit ridiculous. There is no point of playing the first round two months after the final. Maybe there is a point or finding some way to change it. I’m not sure this is the right way.”
Pouille also thinks the timing of this new proposed one-week competition is not a good idea.
“The thing is, then don’t call it the Davis Cup. Apparently it’s going to be the last week of November or something. When do we stop then? We never stop. We never take holidays,” explained the 24-year-old.
“Everybody say the tour is too complicated, that we are very tired at the end of the year because we’re playing too much. Then they put something more at the end of the year. There is no point to do it.
“Maybe do it every two years, every three years, I don’t know. I’m not sure it’s the good idea for the Davis Cup. I mean, it’s not the Davis Cup, it’s the World Team Cup coming back. It’s not the Davis Cup now.”
The 26th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships commenced on Monday with first round action staged across the first two days.
This week, there are two ATP 500 hard-court events taking place – Dubai and Acapulco – with world No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov headlining the field in the Emirates and Rafael Nadal top dog in Mexico.
Here are the main talking points to discuss in Dubai this week…
It’s no secret that Dubai has attracted fewer marquee players this year compared to past seasons with Dimitrov being the only top-10 star in the field and together with Lucas Pouille, they are the sole top-20 players here.
For a tournament that has been dominated by the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for much of the last decade, this is obviously a surprising draw.
There are a few contributing factors. Federer is 36 and is understandably being more selective with his schedule, and it seems he also committed to attend the Laureus Awards in Monaco on Tuesday.
Nadal was lured by Acapulco since last year, while Djokovic and Murray are both injured.
The Acapulco draw has six of the world’s top-10 and it appears organisers have pulled out all the stops to celebrate the tournament’s 25-year anniversary this week.
The event’s switch from clay to hard-courts in 2014 is now paying dividends, and as it strengthened its position as a direct competition for Dubai, more players are heading west than east for this particular week in the calendar.
Add to that the fact that Acapulco is a short plane ride away from Palm Springs where all the players next compete at Indian Wells and it all adds up. They get to be in the same time zone for a longer period of time, while enjoying the beach in Mexico.
That’s not to say that Dubai won’t be getting strong fields in the future. Players like to change up their schedules from time to time and when all the injured stars are back to full strength, they’re bound to come back to the Aviation Club. Something also tells me Federer won’t retire without at least making one last appearance at his second home.
Karen Khachanov and Pouille arrive to Dubai on Monday night after contesting the final in Marseille on Sunday. Khachanov triumphed over the Frenchman to claim a second career ATP title and first since Chengdu 2016. Both play their first rounds on Tuesday and will have to make quick adjustments, going from indoors to outdoors and getting used to brand new conditions. The abrupt switch, including a three-hour time difference, can make them easy prey for their opponents with Khachanov facing Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin and Pouille taking on former top-10 player, Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis.
SPANISH (MINI) SLUMP
No. 3 seed Roberto Bautista Agut won the Auckland title, defeating Juan Martin del Potro in the final, in the second week of January and hasn’t won a match since. He came to Dubai on a three-match losing streak but has a style suited to these courts, where he made the quarter-finals in 2016.
The world No. 23 finally stopped the bleeding on Monday as he defeated Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4 to reach the second round. Can he redeem his recent form by going all the way in Dubai this week?
There are six Frenchmen in the main draw, which according to the ATP is a tournament high. Pouille, Richard Gasquet, Benoit Paire, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and qualifiers Gleb Sakharov and Quentin Halys. The last Frenchman to win the Dubai title was Fabrico Santoro in 2002. Santoro is here in the Emirates, coaching Gasquet. Will the student emulate his teacher?
YOUNG GUNS ON THE RISE
Greek world No. 82 Stefanos Tsitsipas is the youngest in the draw, aged 19. The Next Gen star, who was handed a wildcard, claimed just his second main draw match win at an ATP 500-level or higher event on Monday by overcoming Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3. Tsitsipas made the quarter-finals in Doha (ATP 250 event) as a qualifier at the start of the year and reached the semis in Antwerp, also as a qualifier, end of last season.
Keep an eye out as well for 21-year-olds Borna Coric, who opens against Gasquet, and Khachanov.
DIMITROV AND HIS TOP BILLING
As the only top-10 player in the draw, it goes without saying that Dimitrov is considered the favourite for the title. Since he won the ATP Finals last November – his biggest trophy to date – Dimitrov has been fairly consistent, amassing a 10-3 win-loss record in 2018 that included semis in Brisbane, quarters in the Australian Open and a runner-up showing in Rotterdam. He is recovering from a cold and had a shoulder injury in Melbourne that forced him out of Sofia earlier this month. If he’s healthy, Dubai could be his first title triumph of the season.
Since he didn’t play a tournament this time last year, the Bulgarian stands to gain a full 500 points if he wins the trophy this week, which could see him return to the No. 3 spot.