Dubai Duty Free Tennis: Zverev survives three-set thriller as Rublev advances

Defending champion Andrey Rublev engineered a remarkable turnaround against his good friend Filip Krajinovic

By Joy Chakravarty

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Alexander Zverev hits a return during his match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday. — Photo by M Sajjad
Alexander Zverev hits a return during his match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday. — Photo by M Sajjad

Published: Tue 28 Feb 2023, 12:43 AM

German seventh seed Alexander Zverev overcame a spirited challenge from Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic 4-6 6-3 6-4 to move into the next round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.

Zverev, the Olympic champion who was out for several months following a horrific injury at the French Open last month, failed to find his top gear in the opening set against his Lehecka, the world number 47 who wasted five match points in the Qatar Open semifinal against Andy Murray last week.


But Zverev fought back to win the match in three sets.

"I think it obviously wasn't my best match, especially in the first set, but it was very important for me to turn it around. It was very important for me to find a way to win, especially at the stage I'm in right now. I'm happy I did that. I'm sure I'll play better in the next match," the German star said after winning the last match on Monday night.


Earlier, defending champion Andrey Rublev engineered a remarkable turnaround against his good friend Filip Krajinovic and managed to dodge a bullet in his opening round match.

Rublev was down 1-4 and nowhere near his best against an opponent he has had difficulty before. The second seed, ranked fifth in the ATP, was trailing 2-3 in head-to-head against the world No.70 Serbian, who was celebrating his 31st birthday on Monday.

The last time the two players squared up, it had ended badly for Rublev. On the clay of Rome last year, he had lost in straight sets 6-2, 6-4.

With two breaks in a row and several stunning double-handed down-the-line backhand shots later, Rublev took complete control of the match.

The capitulation was quick in the second set, after the first lasted 54 minutes, Rublev advanced to the second round with a 7-5, 6-2 win. He will next face the world No.31 Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who showed no mercy in ousting the 39-year-old Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, playing the last tournament of his career, 6-2, 6-0 in 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev rallied from a set down to beat Jiri Lehecka 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Rublev, who is trying to become the first back-to-back Dubai champion since Roger Federer in 2014-15, said after his round: “I had gone to the court thinking it was going to be a very tough match. I really did not know what to do because he was playing so well.

“I had crazy things going in my head... Filip is one of my good friends and we always have tough battles.

“Somehow, I calmed myself and said ‘OK, restart at the bottom and raise my level’. And I started to play much, much better. I was able to turn the match around and finish the match in a good way.”

Rublev finished the opening set with a couple of aces and a service winner. His groundstrokes started finding their range and he had 28 winners and converted two of four break points he got in the second set. The win improved his record in Dubai to 11-2.

Among the three wildcards handed out, Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis was the only one to advance to the second round. The world No.69 saved four set points in the second set before completing a 6-4, 7-6 (9) win against Frenchman Quentin Halys. He will now meet the winner of the match between eighth seed Borna Coric and Daniel Evans.

Qualifier Pavel Kotov beat the third wildcard in the field, Australian Alexei Popyrin, in the longest match of the day, which lasted two hours and 47 minutes. Kotov won 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3). Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego fired 10 aces in his match against Swiss Marc-Andrea Huesler to win 7-5, 6-3. He will possibly face the fourth seed Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime next, who will take on American Maxime Cressy in the first match of the day on the Centre Court.

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