WASHINGTON, May 6, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
When Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri faced Taro Daniel of Japan in the finals of the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open on Sunday afternoon, the matchup guaranteed there would be a first-time ATP World Tour champion crowned inside the Koza World of Sports Arena in Istanbul, Turkey.
Considering that Daniel, 25, born in New York City of an American father and Japanese mother and now residing in Japan, had not advanced to a tour-level semifinal before this week, he made quite an impression in winning the ATP 250 clay court event in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Jaziri, 34, who loves to mix up his game with a steady rhythm of drop shots, backhand slices and aggressive inside-out forehands, also had a week he’ll remember for a long time. It included a second-round upset of the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Marin Cilic, which represented the second Top 5 win of the year for the Arab No. 1.
After the dust settled on the Garanti Koza Park red clay court, it was Daniel who triumphed 7-6 (4), 6-4 in a hard-fought battle that lasted 2 hours and 22 minutes. The final was characterized by many long rallies on a court that played slow throughout the tournament, making it tough to finish points.
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“Obviously really happy,” Daniel said afterward in an interview with ATPWorldTour.com. “I think today was a great match, a lot of long rallies from the beginning to the end. I’m very happy. I’m obviously pretty surprised that I suddenly won an ATP (World Tour title). But I guess things like this happen.”
On serve at 3-all in the opening set, Daniel saved a break point and followed it with an ace, then survived a 22-shot rally that ended when Jaziri netted a return from the baseline to hold for 4-3. The Tunisian countered with a hold of his own in which he took advantage of some sloppy returns by Daniel.
“I was feeling pretty nervous before the match,” said Daniel. “I was nervous, but I told myself, ‘I’m sure he’s more nervous than me.’ So that helped. When I started not badly … I started to calm down a bit more.”
At 4-all and with a second break-point opportunity, Jaziri hit a strong backhand that Daniel netted as he tried to counter with a backhand volley. However, Jaziri was unable to capitalize on the break, and on first set point, he hit a forehand wide. Daniel rallied and broke on his second break-point opportunity of the game by hitting a nifty drop-volley winner that evened the set at 5-all. He followed it with a love game for a 6-5 lead. Needing to compose and regroup, Jaziri saved a set point, then strung together three straight points – including a service winner – to force a tie-break. Daniel broke ahead early to lead 4-2, then won the last two points of the tie-break as Jaziri netted a pair of returns to win it 7-4.
Losing the tie-break seemed to deflate Jaziri’s hopes as he was broken twice early in the second set. With Daniel ahead 5-3, Jaziri wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. He saved two match points during the 12-point ninth game and capped an 11-shot rally with a forehand winner to hold at 4-5. Finally, Daniel put away the match in the next game – and won the title on his fourth match-point opportunity – when he completed a 19-shot rally with a forehand winner, then dropped to one knee to celebrate.
Daniel outpointed Jaziri 90-80 with the difference being the Japanese won 10 more points on return than the Tunisian as Jaziri had difficulty winning points on his second serve.
“No one was believing me in the beginning,” said Jaziri during his post-match press conference. “But I proved that Arab players can arrive at this level. Age is not an important factor.
“Still a good result. I wanted to win. I gave everything today on the court. Today was not my day, so congratulations to Daniel and tomorrow I’ll go back to practice.”
Lindstedt/Inglot win Istanbul doubles title
Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Dominic Inglot of Great Britain won their second doubles title as a team by defeating the top-seeded duo of Ben McLachland of Japan and Nicholas Monroe of the United States, 3-6, 6-3, 10-8.
With their triumph, Lindstedt now has 400 match wins in his career and the 41-year-old now has won 22 tour-level doubles titles. Meanwhile, Inglot has claimed back-to-back titles after winning last week in Budapest. He now has won nine ATP World Tour doubles titles.