Five Days Later, Same Winning Result For Tsitsipas

Stefanos Tsitsipas serving an ace in Dubai (photo: DDFT)

DUBAI, February 26, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas faced No. 47 Alexander Bublik for the second straight tournament and, like five days ago, their Dubai result mirrored what happened at the Open 13 Provence. Last Saturday in Marseille, Tsitsipas won 7-5, 6-3. This time, during Wednesday’s second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the 21-year-old rising Greek star beat Bublik, 7-6 (1), 6-4, in one hour and 36 minutes to advance into the quarterfinal round.

Following a 54-minute opening set, Tsitsipas saved four break points while serving at 3-4, which proved to be a turning point in the match. From there, he broke at love in the ensuing game when Bublik overhit a forehand return and hit a backhand slice winner on match point. There was no turning back as Tsitsipas improved his win-loss record this season to 9-4.

Next, Tsitsipas will oppose No. 34 Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, who rolled over No. 29 Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia, 6-1, 6-0, in just 39 minutes.

With his latest triumph in the Emirates – where winning is becoming a habit – Tsitsipas improved his Dubai record to 8-2 with his second consecutive straight-set victory. Against the outspoken Bublik, the World No. 6 from Greece won 79 percent of his service points, saved all five break points he faced and outpointed his Russian-born Kazakh opponent 84-62 – handling the pressure moments and winning all the important points – during their Centre Court tussle. He did all the right things well much to the delight of the late-afternoon crowd that watched at the Aviation Club.

Now, Tsitsipas, who lost last year’s title match against Roger Federer, is just two wins away from reaching another Dubai final.

(Bublik) is a tricky player. He does unexpected things on the court,” Tsitsipas said Tuesday after he beat Pablo Carreño Busta in the first round, 7-6 (1), 6-1. ”I just need to be there, do my job the way I’m doing it so far. I’m doing great. I should continue doing the same, handle things the same way, be cautious and know when I have to put in the extra effort.”

As it happened on Wednesday, Tsitsipas finished with 22 winners and made just 12 unforced errors – an economy of effort – while Bublik went for a more high risk-high reward strategy, hitting 27 winners but committing 24 unforced errors, 11 of them on backhanded returns. When Tsitsipas was asked on court after his win what pleased him most about his victory, he was stumped for an answer. “Well, I don’t know,” he said, chuckling as he spoke. Then, after further thinking about the question, Tsitsipas began to articulate: “Things were going quite well, although we reached the tie-break in the first set. I knew I needed to serve well and take risks, which gave me confidence. I experimented a little bit with other things in the second set.

“I’m trying to economize as much energy as possible on the court; I know it’s going to be a difficult week. So far, I’ve been successful with two-set wins. I’m going to try to keep it that way, keep the right attitude on the court and to try to take each new opponent more seriously than the last one.”

Bublik: A love-hate relationship with tennis?

Although Bublik is enjoying a career-best ranking these days, he’s not in a career-best frame of mind – perhaps, a love-hate relationships with tennis? – as evidenced by some of his recent comments in an interview this week with tennis journalist Reem Abulleil for The National, the Middle East’s leading English-language newspaper. For instance, on learning Tuesday he had earned a rematch with Tsitsipas, Bublik remarked: “It’s the same, you play a Top-10 player, he’s good, he’s on a run. Not to shame yourself out there and play a good match.”

Later in his interview with The National, Bublik said he doesn’t believe in practicing or the maxim that practice makes you a better player. Perhaps, that’s why Dubai is his seventh ATP Tour stop already this season. “Practice makes you better but you never know when it’s going to happen,” he said. “So you just keep practicing and then boom you’re Top 50, or you are 350.

“I haven’t changed so much. Yes, I’m sure (it’s more mental). I don’t believe when you say, ‘If you work hard, you will become …’ No, if you work hard you will become in South American playing their Futures. You die there.

“And sometimes, the guys are doing that and they guys are putting too much work and they’re getting injured and go nowhere. 

“So for me I need to do my hours, I need to do my hours, I need to do my fitness, I need to do my physio work, I need to do my tennis and then I hope that the results will come.

“Suddenly, they start coming and I’m happy for it but I don’t feel like if I put another hour I’m going to be Top 10, maybe I’ll be 150.”

Tsitsipas gave props to Bublik afterward during his press conference, complimenting him on the quality of his drop shots and his serve and volley skills. “He did quite well keeping in the game and surprising me most of the time,” he said. “But, yeah, it’s a tough Stefanos that managed to find ways in these tough moments to apply pressure and not let go.”

Everything’s all smiles for Rublev

Andrey Rublev has made an impressive start to the 2020 season by winning titles in Doha and Adelaide, becoming the first player since 2004 to open the year with two ATP titles in consecutive weeks. Twelve months ago, he was ranked outside the Top 100. Now, the 22-year-old Moscow native has risen 98 places in the rankings during the past year and is at a career-best ranking of No. 14. Everything’s all smiles and looking up for him.

During Wednesday’s opening match on Centre Court, the sixth-seeded Rublev improved his record to 15-2 as he raced to a 7-6 (3), 6-0 win over Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, who handed the Russian one of his two losses earlier this month in the Rotterdam quarterfinals.

Rublev, who has yet to drop a set in two matches this week in the Emirates, began the year by winning his first 11 matches before losing to Alexander Zverev in the fourth round of the Australian Open. He ended 2019 on a four match winning streak at the Davis Cup Finals. One of those victories was against Krajinovic, who is now ranked No. 33.

Rublev’s latest brush with Krajinovic lasted one hour and 40 minutes – 74 minutes alone for the opening set in which the Russian found himself down 1-4 and later facing a set point. However, during the final half hour, the Serbian looked like he would be rather be anywhere than on Centre Court. At 15-0 on Rublev’s serve in the first game of the second set, Krajinovic excused himself. He raced over to the corner of the court, leaned over the railing, and promptly got sick to his stomach. Soon, he returned to play – perhaps, against better judgment – and managed to win just 10 points the rest of the match. Already, Krajinovic was down a set after he lost a tough tie-break, in which he had set point. Regardless, the remainder of the match was never in doubt and Rublev quickly closed out the win to advance.

“The first set was so tiring. The conditions were not easy,” said Rublev during his on-court interview. He credited his improved serve for achieving better results. “It’s really important. With a good serve, you can win so many easy points. A lot of great players and good players, they serve real well, especially the second serve. I know I have so many things that have improved in my serve. We’ll see what happens.”

Rublev finished with 12 aces and hit 32 winners against just 12 unforced errors. He broke Krajinovic’s serve six times and forced his opponent into committing 28 unforced errors. Rublev outpointed Krajinovic 85-63 to move into the quarterfinal round against Daniel Evans of Great Britain.

The 37th-ranked Evans saved three match points in the deciding set against No. 78 Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France and eked out a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7) victory that lasted two hours and 46 minutes on Court 1. What Evans conceded in height – 12 centimeters – to his taller opponent, he made up for in heart and fight.

Evans trailed 2-5 in the first set before winning the next five games to take the opening set. He won the first two games to open the second set, but surrendered six of the next seven games to force a decider. After exchanging service breaks in the third set, it went to a tie-break in which Herbert had match points at 6-4 and 7-6 before Evans pulled out the victory.

It was the second straight three-set win for Evans, coming a day after he knocked out No. 4 Fabio Fognini. Now, Evans can move into the Top 25 with a win over Rublev on Thursday.

Djokovic, Monfils easily advance 

World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic needed just 59 minutes to beat unseeded and 80th-ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, 6-3, 6-1, and reach the quarterfinals. Then, No. 3 seed Gaël Monfils followed Djokovic’s lead and quickly disposed of 99th-ranked Japanese qualifier Yasutake Uchiyama, winning 6-1, 6-2, to put an early wrap on the Centre Court night session.

Djokovic faced break points on his serve and won 75 percent of his service-point opportunities by going full throttle forward with plenty of clean ball striking. The 32-year-old Serbian hit 23 winners and made just 10 unforced errors in beating Kohlschreiber for the 12th time in 14 meetings while also winning his 15th straight match to start the 2020 season.

Djokovic controlled the net, winning 10 of 10 points, and Kohlschreiber managed to hit just four winners. Next, he plays No. 7 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, who bested 96th-ranked Austrian qualifier Dennis Novak, 6-3, 6-4.

“It was a great performance and I enjoyed the way I played,” said Djokovic, who has now 18 consecutive wins going back to last year’s Davis Cup Finals. “Obviously, I came out with the right focus, with the right tactics, and knowing that Philipp beat me 12 months ago – straight sets – in Indian Wells. I had to approach this match seriously, regardless of his ranking. He’s one of the most experienced players on the Tour, he likes playing on the big stage. He doesn’t falter much on the big stadiums like this against the best players in the world. So, credit to him in his career.”

Credit to Monfils, too, who endured a twist to his ankle during his 66-minute victory against Uchiyama that extended his winning streak to a career-best 11 matches. Although there was little uncertainty about the outcome – Monfils was the better player – it made things a bit tricky for the Frenchman, who is going after his third tournament title this year after winning at Montpellier and Rotterdam. He will now face fellow countryman Richard Gasquet. The The 56th-ranked Gasquet saved 10 break points against No. 8 seed Benoit Paire in an all-French battle and prevailed 6-4, 6-4 in 80 minutes.

Around the Aviation Club

• Top seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury from Great Britain were upset by John Peers of Australia and Michael Venus from New Zealand, 6-4, 6-2, in a quarterfinal-round doubles match.

• Thursday’s singles quarterfinals will begin with No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev facing Daniel Evans on Centre Court at 3 p.m. (11 a.m. GMT) followed by unseeded Jan-Lennard Struff versus No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitisipas. Then, not before 7 p.m. (3 p.m. GMT), top seed Novak Djokovic will face No. 7 seed Karen Khachanov, followed by No. 3 seed Gaël Monfils against unseeded Richard Gasquet.

What they’re saying

Novak Djokovic on Maria Sharapova’s retirement announcement: “I just heard the news right now. I would like everyone to give her a big round of applause for everything she’s done in her career. She deserves it, definitely. I mean, she’s a great fighter, as dedicated as someone can really be in our sport, and the willpower and the willingness to overcome all the obstacles she has – especially in the last five or six years, with all the injuries and surgeries – and to come back to the court and play on her desired level … It’s truly inspirational to see the mind of a champion she has. I’m sorry it had to end with an injury. At the same time, she had a fantastic career and she can be proud of herself.”

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic’s best start to a season came back in 2011 when he went 41-0 before losing to Roger Federer in the semifinal round at Roland Garros.