Roger Federer was left puzzled by his shock defeat to world No116 Evgeny Donskoy, who saved three match points and climbed from 1-5 down in the third-set tiebreak to claim the biggest win of his career and reach the Dubai quarter-finals.
It was quite literally lights out tennis on Centre Court on Wednesday night as both players battled for over two hours in a clash that saw one of the stadium floodlights go out, halting play briefly, and prompting a sell-out crowd to pull out their phones and turn their flashlights on.
Federer held three match points in the second-set tiebreak, was 5-2 up in the third, served for the win at 5-3, and blew a 5-1 lead in the final-set breaker to hand Donskoy a 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) victory.
“Don’t know where to start, really,” a perplexed Federer told reporters moments after stepping off the court.
“I had my chances. I should somehow close it out. Don’t know how it got away, but he did very well, and yeah, it’s a rough one, for sure.”
Federer was riding an 11-match winning streak in Dubai dating back to 2014 (he missed 2016 through injury) and came the Emirates after a four-week break that followed his historic Australian Open title triumph last month.
Did rust play a factor in his failure to capitalise on his opportunities?
“Look, it could be anything right now. It’s tough to judge this one because I could have won in two and I’d be already almost hitting the pillow now thinking about (Lucas) Pouille (in the next round). But now here I’m explaining what didn’t go well.
“Clearly can become quite negative about it, but I won’t. It was a tough loss today. Donskoy did well, like I said. Just gotta move on from here. Clearly would have liked to do much better here this week.”
For Donskoy, the win was not an expected one. The 26-year-old Russian qualifier entered the clash with a 0-6 record against top-10 opposition and a 2-2 win-loss mark in matches in 2017.
“I surprised everyone I think today. Whoever wins against Roger surprises himself, I think,” said Donskoy.
The Moscow-native has been without his coach Boris Sobkin in Dubai this week but instead has been getting advice from his compatriot Mikhail Youzhny, who is a former runner-up in the Emirates and lost to Donskoy in the opening round on Tuesday.
Both Donskoy and Youzhny share Sobkin as a coach.
“When I was 200 ranking, he’s trying to, he was like saying to his coach, ‘I want to help this guy’. He’s a nice player,” Donskoy said of Youzhny, a former world No8.
“He was telling me move your legs, trying to do every point, every next point. That’s what I had in my mind at 5-1 (down in the third-set tiebreak).”
Donskoy was aggressive with his forehand at the start but Federer broke at love then consolidated for a 4-1 lead. Federer broke again but faltered while serving for the opening set at 5-1.
The Russian held at love to shrink the gap but Federer found his groove on serve again and closed out the set in 24 minutes with three back-to-back service winners.
In the second, play was stopped for a broken light at 4-4 but they both agreed to play with one less light on and the set went to a tiebreak but not before Federer saved a break point at 5-6.
Federer still processing his loss to world No116 Donskoy: I'm more just trying to digest why I'm speaking to you about what just happened.— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) March 1, 2017
Federer went up 5-2 in the breaker and held match points at 6-4, 6-5 and 7-6. He lost all three of them as Donskoy forced a decider.
The seven-time Dubai champion broke in the sixth game of the decider but four straight games from Donskoy saw him force a tiebreak where he pulled off yet another impressive comeback to set-up a quarter-final showdown with No7 seed Lucas Pouille.
“I thought I returned way better in the first round. Today I really struggled on the return. I didn’t quite really time it well,” said Federer.
“Maybe it wasn’t really committed enough, I think, you know. Commitment in tennis is a big thing. In the first round I was. Today I wasn’t, really. That sort of is a feeling you get and it trickles in an entire game, you know.”
The 35-year-old is next heading to Indian Wells but is unsure about his immediate plans.
“Didn’t have time to speak to my coach yet. I’m more just trying to digest why I’m speaking to you about what just happened,” said the Swiss.
Earlier in the day, fourth-seeded Gael Monfils made his first Dubai quarter-final with a hard-fought 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 win over Great Britain’s Dan Evans.
The Frenchman next faces Spanish lefty Fernando Verdasco, who battled for two hours and 25 minutes before he took out his sixth-seeded compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut.
Bosnian Damir Dzumhur backed up his opening round upset over defending champion Stan Wawrinka with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Spaniard Marcel Granollers.
Two-time runner-up and No5 seed Tomas Berdych was sent packing by Dutch world No66 Robin Haase 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Top seed Andy Murray, fourth seed Gael Monfils and World No15 Lucas Pouille feature in a sparkling quarter-final line-up at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday.
World No1 Murray faces Philipp Kohlschreiber at 7pm while Roger Federer’s conqueror Evgeny Donskoy is in action against Lucas Pouille of France after the completion of that match.
In the earlier games on Centre Court, Robin Haase faces Damir Dzumhur at 3pm.
Gael Monfils also takes on Fernando Verdasco.
See the complete schedule below:
Five-time grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has been given a wildcard to play in the Italian Open in May, organisers said on Wednesday, which sparked further debate over whether players returning from doping suspensions should be given invitations to tournaments rather than having to work their way back up the rankings.
The former world No1 makes her return to the circuit in Stuttgart in April after completing a 15-month doping ban.
“We officially announce the wildcard for the three-time Rome champion @MariaSharapova into the main draw,“ organisers announced on Twitter.
Sharapova hasn’t played on tour since testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
An initial two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Rome tournament runs from May 15 to May 21. She has also been handed a wildcard for the May 6-13 Madrid Open. Grand slam organisers might face a dilemma on whether they will invite Sharapova to play at Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
Sharapova is a two-time French Open champion but will not be able to play in Paris unless she receives a wildcard since the entry deadline for the tournament is before her return date.
For Wimbledon (July 3-16), the 2004 winner might actually make it into the event if she captures enough points in Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome. But the All England Club might be faced with a predicament if Sharapova doesn’t make it into the draw via her own ranking.
As a grand slam champion, Sharapova can receive an infinite number of wildcards into tournaments.
Andy Murray told the Times in Dubai that he believed players returning from doping suspensions should not be given wildcards.
“I think you should really have to work your way back,” Murray told the British daily.
“However, the majority of tournaments are going to do what they think is best for their event.
“If they think having big names there is going to sell more seats, then they’re going to do that…
“She (Sharapova) has an opportunity to try to improve her ranking up until that point and potentially not need a wildcard (for Wimbledon),” he added. “But then if she doesn’t, that becomes Wimbledon’s decision and how they want to play that. I’m sure they’ll think long and hard about it and how they feel people will view it.”
Murray was asked to elaborate on his comments on Wednesday. He said: “I’m extremely clear on how I feel about anti-doping and I don’t know really what else to say about it.”
Roger Federer was not as dead-set in his verdict regarding the matter (wildcards for doping offenders) when asked about it in Dubai on Wednesday.
“Could see it either way, depending on who you are, and don’t know if it matters what the cause was for being banned, because at the end, it’s all sort of the same. Banned is banned, you know,” said Federer.
“It’s a tough one. I really don’t know what to answer on that one, to be quite honest.”