Andrey Rublev plays a shot against Filip Krajinovic (unseen) during their ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship match on Monday.
Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor
Defending champion Andrey Rublev battled past Filip Krajinovic 7-5, 6-2 to reach the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The world No. 6 from Russia required 88 minutes to overcome a slow start and beat his Serbian rival.
The second seed fought back after being on the verge of losing the first set against world No. 70. Refusing to give up easily, Rublev made a comeback after being 2-5 down and went on to win the next five straight games to take the opening set.
He dominated the second set completely and secured the spot in the next round.
“[It was crazy], crazy things were in my head… Filip is one of my good friends and we always have tough battles,” said Rublev when asked about his early struggles. “So today I was going on court thinking that it was going to be a really tough match, and when he started the way he did, I didn’t know what to do because he was playing so well.
“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,” added the Russian, who is looking to become the first player since Roger Federer in 2014 and 2015 to win back-to-back Dubai titles.
In this season he hasn’t advanced past the quarter-finals of a tournament, though, falling to eventual champion Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open and semi-finalist Jiri Lehecka in Doha last week.
Rublev will now meet Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who defeated wild card Malek Jaziri 6-2, 6-0. Tunisia’s Jaziri, a former World No. 42, was playing the last match of his career.
As a fan favourite and frequent competitor in the Dubai competition, the 39-year-old Tunisian star, a wildcard entrant, has had some of his best moments here, making it to the semi-finals in 2018.
Netherland’s Tallon Griekspoor overcame a second-set wobble to beat France’s Constant Lestienne 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
The No. 39-ranked Dutchman will face top seed Djokovic in the next round. The Serbian star made another milestone achievement on Monday after entering his 378th week as the world No 1 and breaking Stefi Graf’s record of most weeks as the world’s top-ranked player.
Another wild card, Thanasi Kokkinakis, secured a hard fought victory against Quentin Halys 6-4, 7-6(9) in the opening match of the day.
The Australian, who won a challenger event in Bahrain last, emerged on top in the lengthy 19-point tiebreak to advance into the second round.
Elsewhere Lorenzo Sonego defeated Marc-Andrea Huesler 7-5, 6-3 in to book his second-round spot.
He fired 23 winners, including 10 aces, to triumph in his maiden tour-level meeting with the Swiss.
Qualifier Pavel Kotov beat Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3).
Murray pulls out: Andy Murray withdrew from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday, citing a hip injury.
The 2017 Dubai champion reached his first final of the season in Doha last week, winning three-set matches against Lorenzo Sonego, Alexander Zverev, Alexandre Muller and Jiri Lehecka.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray lost 6-4 6-4 to Daniil Medvedev in the Doha final.
The Scot, who has a metal hip, reached the Australian Open third round in January after beating Italian 13th seed Matteo Berrettini in five sets and then Australian Kokkinakis in another epic.
Last week, the 35-year-old played in his fourth ATP final since undergoing hip resurfacing surgery in 2019. Murray plans to play next at the Indian Wells Masters in California, with the tournament beginning on March 6.
“We regret to inform you that Andy Murray is unable to participate in this year’s tournament,” the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships wrote on Twitter. “Andy has been dealing with a recurring hip injury that has unfortunately forced him out of Dubai.
“We wish Andy a speedy recovery and hope to see him back on the court in Dubai soon.”