WASHINGTON, May 4, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Unseeded Malek Jaziri of Tunisia displayed all of his red clay magic tricks during his second-round match at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open against World No. 4 Marin Cilic of Croatia in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday. The 34-year-old Tunisian surprised his 29-year-old newly-wed opponent with a few well placed drop shots, relied upon slight-of-hand sliced backhands, and hit some inside-out forehands for winners. He kept the No. 1 seed off balance – and it worked.
The No. 78 Tunisian upset the defending champion Cilic for his second win of the year against a Top 5 opponent, 6-4, 6-2, in 1 hour and 19 minutes on Garanti Koza Park to advance into Friday’s quarterfinal round against seventh-seeded Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic, ranked No. 84, who advanced with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (3) win over 131st-ranked qualifier Thiago Monteiro of Brazil.
Other Thursday winners included No. 87 Jeremy Chardy of France and No. 100 Thomas Fabbiano of Italy, who knocked off No. 2 seed Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ranked 32nd, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2. The highest remaining seed in this ATP 250 tournament is No. 5 Paolo Lorenzi of Italy.
Although Jaziri placed just 43 percent of his first serves in play, he won 83 percent (19 of 23) of his first-serve points. He outpointed Cilic 61-46. The Tunisian’s provisional ranking improved to No. 72 with his victory.
“I’m really happy with my win, personally and professionally,” said Jaziri, during an on-court interview after his victory. “I beat a good player, who is Top 5 in the world. I fought hard from first point to the end. I hope I can continue to play like this.”
Jaziri broke Cilic’s serve in three consecutive service games during the opening set and won five straight games to lead 5-2. Although Cilic got one of the service breaks back and won a love game to pull within 4-5, Jaziri overcame a pair of double faults and won the first set after Cilic hit a long forehand return.
Early in the second set, Jaziri broke to go ahead 2-1 when Cilic netted a forehand return. He held for 3-1 as Cilic hit a backhand that the Tunisian challenged went wide – and won the point when the chair umpire agreed with him. Later, Jaziri held at love for a 4-2 advantage, and pressured Cilic into hitting several errant returns. The Croatian faced triple break-point after hitting his fourth double fault, then double-faulted – again – on double break-point to give Jaziri an enviable 5-2 lead on his racket with the finish line in sight. Jaziri served out the win by taking advantage of three unforced errors by Cilic, including a long forehand return on match point.
The Tunisian celebrated his victory by kneeling down and kissing the red clay before shaking hands with Cilic at the net.
— Istanbul Open (@istanbulopen) 3. Mai 2018
Cilic gave props to Jaziri during his post-match meeting with the media, saying: “It was my first match and Malek played great. I had issues with my knee, so I wasn’t serving that well. But all the credit to Malek. I tried to play aggressively and I didn’t want to slow the pace down or be defensive.”
The win over Cilic improved Jaziri’s 2018 ATP World Tour win-loss record to 13-8. His other victory over a Top 5 player came back in February when he beat then-No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the first round at Dubai en route to a semifinal finish.