DUBAI, March 16 (DDFT Press Release)
Denis Shapovalov came through an intimidating opening match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday, defeating Jan-Lennard Struff 6-1, 6-3 to reach the third round.
The number three seed could have been forgiven for feeling a sense of despair when he saw the draw as he had lost the last four matches he had played against his opponent, with his lone victory coming in 2018. But he was on the front foot right from the start and never looked in any danger of conceding his advantage.
His turnaround in fortunes was at least partly due to having former two-time Dubai runner-up Mikhail Youzhny in his coaching corner.
— Dubai Tennis Champs (@DDFTennis) March 16, 2021
“Misha told me the balls would be flying but that pretty much suits my game. From the first practise I was able to feel the court well,” said Shapovalov, who is making his debut in Dubai this week. “I knew it was a very difficult match. I’ve had difficulties with him in the past, so I knew it was going to be a tough match for me, but I feel any match is a new match and it’s always starting from zero zero, so the past doesn’t really mean much.
“I definitely played very well. I was just trying to pick my target on my serve to be honest, playing the way I’ve been playing in practise. I didn’t really change my game plan compared to the other times I played him.
“I was just trying to make a lot of returns, to place the ball on my serve, and I was able to put a lot of pressure from the beginning on the returns and I think he felt that pressure and started throwing in a couple of double faults and more second serves so I was getting a lot of looks.”
“Denis Shapovalov is one of many players who choose to spend time practising in Dubai as they love the climate and world-class facilities that are available, but this is the first time that he has taken part in the tournament,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We are delighted that he has chosen to do so and wish him well in the days ahead.”
Aslan Karatsev continued his remarkable run of success since the season began by overcoming number 12 seed and 2020 semi-finalist Dan Evans 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
The tournament wild card was the sensation of the recent Australian Open, where he won eight matches to advance all the way from the qualifying rounds to the semi-finals, when his run was ended by eventual champion Novak Djokovic. His only other defeat this year came last week in Doha to world number four and Dubai top seed Dominic Thiem, although as consolation he won the doubles with Andrey Rublev.
It took Karatsev two hours 22 minutes to overcome a resilient Evans. The Russian ended a run of three successive first set breaks by leading 4-3, and fortunes swung one way and then the other in the second set as Evans rallied from 2-4 to level the match. The final set was even more closely contested, with Karatsev breaking in the first game but then having to fight off two break points as he served out the match.
Eighth seed Karen Khachanov was stretched to the limit by tournament wild card Alexei Popyrin, edging through 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4) after a gruelling two hours 16 minutes. Popyrin won the first title of career last month in Singapore, and once worked as a ball kid at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“I came out to practise on court and remembered Centre Court being much bigger than it actually is,” said Popyrin. “It’s a beautiful Centre Court and I remember just, you know, just being part of a group with the ball boys, having my friends there around. I remember having lunch and dinner at the back where the ball boys usually were. And, you know, the smells. The smell is very similar and they bring the pictures back of me being a ball kid.”
“Andrei Popyrin stretched his far more experienced to the very edge of defeat and he is very much a face of the future,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “It has been a great pleasure to welcome him back to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as a player, and we look forward to seeing him here again for many years to come.”
Malek Jaziri‘s tournament was ended 7-5, 6-2 by 11th seed Dusan Lajovic, 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz beat Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4, 16th Jannik Sinner defeated Alexander Bublik 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 and 17th seed Lorenzo Sonego overwhelmed qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles 6-2, 6-2.