Malek Jaziri walks away from a career-best run to the Dubai semi-finals with lots of positives and lessons learned, the Tunisian said on Friday following his straight-sets defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut.
The 117th-ranked wildcard drew in huge crowds all week and briefly had a chance when he led 4-1 in the second set last night but eventually folded in two sets to the third-seeded Bautista Agut.
His reward is not just a $139,510 cheque but a return to the top-100 with his projected ranking expected to be around 84 when the new standings are released on Monday.
Jaziri, who is the first Arab to reach the semis in Dubai since Morocco’s Younes El Aynaoui in 2002, upset top-seeded world No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round and backed it up with two more wins over Robin Haase and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Hampered by back pain, he didn’t have enough to pull off another upset but he’s proud of his week nonetheless.
“I’m proud I won lot of matches. Tunisians, lot of people, I make them happy. I can see in the face. For me, as well, I took a lot of confidence from this week mentally and tennistically as well,” said the 34-year-old Jaziri.
“I gave energy to my team, as well, to work harder for the season, to put good objective to make great season, as well.”
They will certainly need that energy as Jaziri transitions quickly from the highs of playing a semi-final at an ATP 500 event to the reality check of competing on the Challenger tour, which is where he’ll be next week.
“It’s not easy. You have no choice. I didn’t expect to play here like this. I was playing every day, fighting every day. Was tough beginning of the year,” he explains.
“I decide to play some challengers, to play more matches, to create more confidence, to feel good in the court. I didn’t play a lot of matches, so I didn’t win a lot of matches the beginning of the year. I need more matches. I decide with my team to play more points.
“We’ll go to China. We’ll go fight.”
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.