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Dubai Tennis: Karatsev sets up final date with Harris

Russian wildcard Aslan Karatsev celebrates his victory on Friday. (Supplied photo)
Russian wildcard Aslan Karatsev celebrates his victory on Friday. (Supplied photo)

Dubai - The world No.81 became the first qualifier in ATP history to reach the final of a 500 tournament

By James Jose

Published: Fri 19 Mar 2021, 10:50 PM

Last updated: Fri 19 Mar 2021, 11:04 PM

Lloyd Harris may have been gutted to witness his favourite club Tottenham Hotspur make an early exit in the Round of 16 of the Europa League late on Thursday night, with ‘The Lilywhites’ going down in a cracking game to Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb. But the South African ensured that the same fate doesn’t befall him.

Truth be told, he’s gone the full distance and what remains is the final piece to the jigsaw puzzle. It has been a dream week with the 24-year-old rewriting history along the way and now, it would be nothing short of remarkable if he can pen the final chapter with that perfect ending.

The world No.81 became the first qualifier in ATP history to reach the final of a 500 tournament after adding third seed Denis Shapovalov to the burgeoning list of victims in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday night.

A fan of the movie Fast & Furious, it was anything but that against the Canadian world No.12 with the frizzy and long-haired having a battle on hand, on Centre Court of the Aviation Club Tennis Centre.

But as he has done all week, right from qualifying until now and scything top seed Dominic Thiem of Austria and 14th seeded Serbian Filip Krajinovic along the way, Harris stuck it out before coming through in an epic three-set thriller 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (6).

Having come through seven matches in seven days, spent 10 hours and 27 minutes on court, Harris set up a final date with Russian wildcard Aslan Karatsev on Saturday night.

Having been ATP Cup championship teammates for Russia not long ago in February and having clinched the doubles title in Doha last week, Karatsev knows a thing or two about fellow Muscovite Andrey Rublev.

And the world No.42 brought that to the fore, bringing down the second seed and world No.8 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in two hours and 12 minutes. It also brought an end to Rublev’s hope of claiming a fifth ATP 500 title on the bounce and also halted his 23-match winning streak in ATP 500 events.

“I don’t have many words right now,” Harris said courtside, after the marathon match that stretched to two hours and 41 minutes.

“I’m super happy I fought for that win. I was a set down and 4-2 down and mentally and physically it was a little bit troublesome for me. But I kind of found my best tennis in there and I’m just extremely happy with the result right now,” he added.

This marks Harris’ second final after he had worked his way through qualifying before finishing runner-up to Andrey Rublev at the ATP 250 Adelaide International, last January.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for and what I’ve been putting in the hard yards for. I’ve kind of been waiting for some results like these and to have so many of them in once week is a fantastic feeling. Now I’ve got one more match to go,” said the Cape Towner.

Harris had a medical time-out after the seventh game to tend to his right thigh and he had it taped and took painkillers. But he revealed that it was nothing to worry about.

“I think it was due to a little bit of fatigue and when it heated up, I felt better as the match went along and right now, I’m feeling ok,” he said.

It was an intense tussle with both Harris and Shapovalov going toe to toe in the first set and not giving anything away. Neither of them blinked and the matter was to settle in a tie-breaker with Shapovalov drawing first blood. The tie-breaker too was a thrilling affair with Harris running up a 2-0 lead before Shapovalov clinched it 7-5.

And it seemed that Shapovalov could buck Harris’ trend by breaking the latter in the fifth game of the second set. But Harris bounced back by earning the break in the eighth game to level it at 4-4 before converting on his second break point in the 10th game to square it and push the match-up to the decider.

The decider went on serve too with nothing separating the pair before Harris prevailed in the tie-breaker to pull off a remarkable win.


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