WASHINGTON, May 6, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
By the end of his 91-minute semifinal match at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open on Saturday evening in Istanbul, Turkey, 34-year-old Malek Jaziri showed fresher legs and better endurance than his 22-year-old opponent, Laslo Djere of Serbia. The 78th-ranked Tunisian’s physical fitness made a big difference as he gutted out a 6-3, 6-2 win that lifted him into the first ATP World tour final of his career.
On Sunday afternoon, Jaziri will face 25-year-old Taro Daniel of Japan, a baseline specialist who is also making his first ATP World Tour final appearance. The unseeded and 114th-ranked Daniel beat 87th-ranked Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in the other semifinal match. Either Jaziri or Daniel will leave Istanbul with their first ATP World Tour title trophy.
Jaziri, who had been 0-3 in career ATP World Tour semifinals – his most recent semifinal came earlier this year in Dubai – was the steadier player Saturday. Jaziri won 71 percent (25 of 35) of his first-serve points and saved five of six break points he faced against the 110th-ranked Djere. Meanwhile, he broke his younger foe four times – including twice in the final set – and didn’t let his opportunities go astray. After Jaziri broke to go ahead 5-2 in the second set, he exuded a look of confidence expected from a veteran tour pro and won on his first match point opportunity. Jaziri outpointed Djere 67-51.
As he did when he beat No. 1 seed and World No. 4 Marin Cilic on Thursday, after Jaziri won match point against Djere, he knelt down and kissed the red clay of Garanti Koza Park, then raised his fists in celebration. He acknowledged a small but vocal contingent of Tunisian fans in attendance, several who were waving the familiar red and white flag of Tunisia with its star and crescent.
“Tunisia went through tough times and it’s great to be able to bring a smile to people’s faces back home,” Jaziri told the Dubai-based sports daily Sport360 after reaching the final. “I hope to keep going, the job is not done yet.”
By winning his semifinal match and reaching the final at Istanbul, Jaziri became the first Arab player since Morocco’s Younes El Aynaoui in Casablanca in 2003 to advance to an ATP World Tour final. The last Arab to win an ATP World Tour title was El Aynaoui at Munich in April 2002.
“It’s a dream come true. I’m really happy to be here,” said Jaziri during his post-match press conference. “I’ve already won two Challengers here. This one is different, it’s an ATP (World Tour) final. There’s still one more match. I’m really focused on the match. I’m really happy for all the people on my team and my family as well.”