Dubai: Lloyd Harris killed two birds with one stone when he reached the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Friday evening as he not only became the first qualifier to book his spot in a Dubai men’s final, but also the first to reach the final of an ATP 500 Series event.
The Dubai event carries the lofty ATP 500 tag and Harris’ performances have been exemplary. The 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (6) semi-final win against world No.12 Denis Shapovalov was his seventh win in as many days and followed his quarter-final win over No.41-ranked Kei Nishikori. Prior to the Japanese, he accounted for Filip Krajinovic, the world No.33, in the Round of 16 and before that sent tournament top-seed, world No.4 and reigning US Open Champion Dominic Thiem packing.
All his opponents in the main draw have been ranked higher than the No.81 spot Harris occupies on the FedEx ATP World Rankings. And, like gold being refined in a furnace, those matches appear to have helped him walk the road of self discovery. In his own words, Harris has been a revelation unto himself.
“I think this week, I’ve really found my game and found the way I want to be playing,” said Harris, 24, who faces Aslan Karatsev in Saturday’s final (from 7pm).
“There’s still some tweaks I want to make and there’s a lot to improve still but I am looking forward to the work that lies ahead after a tournament like this. That’s really exciting for me. I want to improve on so many things and do it better even though I am playing exceptional tennis.’’
Harris took a medical time-out at 4-3 in the first set. He needed painkillers and had his right thigh taped to rid himself of discomfort, but returned to take the game into the tie-breaker, which Shapovalov won rather comfortably.
In the second, Harris found himself a break down at 4-2 and that’s when his spirit really kicked in. Holding his own thereafter, he broke Shapovalov for the first time in the tournament and twice at that to close the set at 6-4.
The pair held serve all the way to force a tie-break in the third, where Harris’ serve had Shapovalov struggling as the Canadian often found himself at odd corners of the court. The latter failed to hang in as Harris’ first match point arrived at 6-5, but he closed at 8-6 after Shapovalov sent a backhand long.
“I don’t have many words right now. 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 there and I’m just extremely happy with the result right now,” Harris said.
“I think it (injury) was due to a little bit of fatigue and when it heated up and as the match went along, I felt better and right now I’m feeling okay.”
In his only previous Tour-level final in Adelaide last year, Harris fell in straight sets to Andrey Rublev. Russian Rublev went down fighting 2-6, 6-4, 4-6 by countryman Aslan Karatsev, who was handed a wild card entry to the main draw.