Wild card Aslan Karatsev ensured a remarkable 2021 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships awaits when he beat compatriot Andrey Rublev 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
He will face qualifier Lloyd Harris on Saturday, who claimed a remarkable win against Denis Shapovalov 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 earlier in the day.
Both finalists created records of their own; Karatsev became the first wild card to reach the Dubai final since Thomas Muster in 1997, while Harris became the first qualifier to reach the final.
The two Russians in Friday’s late game faced each other for the first time, with Karatsev ending Rublev’s 23-match winning streak in the ATP 500.
Karasev, who made the 2021 Australian Open semi-finals, owns an 11-2 record this year and can leap into 22nd position in the ATP World Rankings should he claim the title on Saturday. Landing 41 winners and creating 16 breakpoints, Karatsev beat Rublev at his own game by striking early in rallies and kept his countryman behind the baseline.
The first set took Rublev by surprise as Karatsev’s excellent serves and two breaks earned him the first set with ease. The second seed Rublev fought off four break points at 3-3 in the second set and was able to level the match after being assisted by two double faults from his opponent, breaking for 6-4.
In a tense final set, Rublev doubled faulted on Karatsev’s sixth breakpoint 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 breakpoints to level at 5-5 before Karatsev finally got over the line on his second match point.
In a game that was finely balanced till the last shot, an aggressive Shapovalov took the first set 7-6 against Harris. Although Harris received medical attention and had his thigh taped, the world number 81 continued to match his opponent ball for ball.
The South African, who trailed 2-4 in the second set, saved three of the four break points he faced to take the game to a deciding set, which saw neither player earn a breakpoint.
It was in the tiebreak that Harris edged his opponent, winning on his second match point. The battle went on for two hours and 41 minutes.
“I don’t have many words right now. I am super happy with that win,” Harris said in an on-court interview.
“Being a set and 2-4 down is mentally and physically a little bit troublesome for me, but I found my best tennis from there”, he continued.