Lucas Pouille is well aware that victory for him on Saturday in the Dubai Duty Free Championships final would give him a spot in the world’s top-10 for the first time in his career but the Frenchman insists he enters the match with no extra pressure on his shoulders.
The No. 2 seed, who overcame the rain and a stubborn Filip Krajinovic 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) in the last-four on Friday, will be contesting his third final in four weeks having won the title in Montpellier and placed runner-up in Marseille in the build-up to Dubai.
His reward could be a maiden top-10 berth but standing in his way is Roberto Bautista Agut, who crushed the hopes of the rowdy Arab crowd by ending Tunisian Malek Jaziri’s stunning run to the semi-finals. The Spaniard came back from 1-4 down in the second set to ease past Jaziri 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 19 minutes.
“Of course, I know. I heard. I’m not watching the ranking, but so many people told me already. Of course, I know,” Pouille said with a smile when asked if he knew he was one win away from that elite ranking bracket.
“Well, that’s exciting. Playing to reach the top-10 for the first time, of course it’s something great. But obviously if I play like this every week of the year, I mean, if I’m focused like this and I’m mentally as strong as I am now, I’m sure one week or another I will be in the top 10.
“Tomorrow is not going to be the most important match of my life, but definitely important. I’m just very exciting, and that’s it. No pressure.”
On a rainy day in Dubai, the 24-year-old Pouille was cruising against Krajinovic, and served for the match at 6-3, 5-4. Krajinovic had wanted to stop play a game earlier because the rain was getting heavier, but the umpire urged them to play on and Pouille was keen to finish the match quickly.
Instead, Krajinovic broke to draw level at 5-all, and then snatched the tiebreak to force a decider.
“I didn’t want to stop. I was feeling good. I wanted to finish the match quickly. I think that was a mistake,” admitted Pouille after the clash.
It was the second time in seven days the pair were squaring off, and just like in their Marseille quarter-finals last Friday, Pouille ended up getting the win in three sets.
He’s pleased he didn’t let the match slip away after that second-set blip.
“I think that would have hurt a lot,” Pouille said of the prospect of losing that contest.
Pouille started his year by losing a fifth consecutive Australian Open first round. He was injured and didn’t play in France’s Davis Cup tie against the Netherlands, but then managed to turn things around and has now won 11 of his last 13 matches.
On bouncing back from his early season disappointment, Pouille said: “In my mind I was like, ‘Okay, c’mon, you worked so hard, stop losing matches because you put too much pressure on yourself. Just try to play your game, fight until the end, you will see.
“Anyway, either you win it or you lose it, but better losing with my game and playing than not playing.”
Pouille trails Bautista Agut 1-2 head-to-head but won their most recent meeting at the 2016 US Open.
On his part, Bautista Agut is happy to put his own slump behind him having entered the Dubai tournament carrying a three-match losing streak. The Spanish No. 3 seed is searching for an eighth career title while Pouille is bidding for a sixth. Both of them have already picked up one trophy each in 2018.
Lucas Pouille reached his third final in four weeks with a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) victory over Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic in the Dubai last-four on Friday.
The No. 2 seed was broken while serving for the match in the second set but recovered in the decider to wrap up the win in 2 hours and 19 minutes on a rainy day in the Emirates and will be looking to capture a second trophy of the season on Saturday’s final.
Pouille, who won the Montpellier title less than four weeks ago and reached the final in Marseille last week, could break the top-10 for the first time if he triumphs on Saturday.
The Frenchman was playing Krajinovic for the second time in seven days, having also defeated him in the Marseille quarter-finals last Friday.
In Dubai, the 24-year-old Pouille awaits the winner of the second semi-final between Tunisian wildcard Malek Jaziri and No. 3 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Pouille broke for 4-2 with some exceptional net skills and it was all he needed to take a one-set lead over his Serbian opponent. The French world No. 15 broke in the fifth game of the second set and served for the match at 5-4 but Krajinovic struck with his back against the wall and drew level on his second opportunity of the game.
There was a seven-minute interruption as the courts needed to be dried before play resumed. Krajinovic saved a break point to hold for 6-5.
The set went to a tiebreak and it was Krajinovic who first edged ahead 3-1. Pouille got the mini-break back with a return winner but then sent a forehand wide to trail 2-4 at the change-of-ends.
Pouille saved a first set point with an ace but Krajinovic slammed a return winner the next point to secure the second set and force a decider.
The pair stayed neck and neck in the third set before rain suspended play with Pouille leading 4-3. They returned to the court nearly 30 minutes later and the set also went to a tiebreak.
Pouille went up 5-2 showing great athleticism and got his hands on three match points with a big forehand winner. He netted a volley to lose the first and sent a ball long to see the second slip away. But on his own serve, Pouille did not falter as a Krajinovic ball sailed wide to put an end to an intriguing encounter.
“I think that would have hurt a lot to lose,” said Pouille after the win. “I was much better first and second set, 6-3, 5-3. I think I made a mistake continue playing when it was raining. After that we couldn’t even move. It was just serve and return. But he deserved to win the second set. I mean, he put the return in the court. He was aggressive. I couldn’t put a first serve, so…
“Then in the third, it was very, very close. Yeah, I’m just very happy I get through this one.”
Despite the loss, Krajinovic will enter the top-30 for the first time on Monday.
Swiss star Stan Wawrinka withdrew from this month’s ATP Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami on Thursday, saying he needed more time to recuperate as he works his way back from knee surgery.
The 32-year-old world number 12 sat out the second half of 2017 after a knee operation following a first-round exit at Wimbledon in June.
The Swiss ace spent eight weeks on crutches following surgery to repair the damage.
He returned this year but has struggled and was forced to withdraw during a second round match in Marseille last month against world number 193 Ilya Ivashka of Belarus.
Wawrinka said Tuesday he hoped skipping the hard court tournaments of Indian Wells and Miami would enable him to return refreshed for the clay court season.
“Unfortunately I need to announce that I won’t be able to play in Indian Wells and Miami,” Wawrinka said in a statement.
“They are both amazing events but coming back from a big surgery is complicated and after having played a few tournaments I have discussed with my team that it is best for me to build on the progress and go back to practice.
“I’ve enjoyed being back on tour playing matches and this gives me even more motivation to go back on the practice court.
My goal is to find my highest level again and in order to do that I will keep working hard every single day.”
Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open champion, said he was targeting the clay court season.
“I need to be patient and give my body the time it needs, but as of now my goal is to come back on clay,” he said.
“I love that part of the season and hope to be ready by then.”