Andrey Rublev celebrates his win over Jiri Vesely
Andrey Rublev celebrates his win over Jiri Vesely Image Credit: Reuters

A capacity crowd witnessed one of the most intriguing finals in the 30-year history of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as Andrey Rublev overcame Jiri Vesely in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday night.

The final was slightly one-way traffic from the Russian but both players reached the clash against all odds. How either made it to the showdown in Garhoud is an amazing chapter in athletic history on its own.

Russia’s Rublev doubted he would even take part as, only last Sunday, he dashed from France having won ATP 250 title in Marseilles, and was on court a matter of hours after landing in Dubai.

He called winning his first match against Dan Evans a present, claiming it was a struggle to even pick up a racket. He went on to drop the first set against South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon, Mackenzie McDonald and Hubert Hurkacz before rallying each time — calling on reserves unknown to us mere mortals to fight back and claim his place against Vesely in the final.

The Czech Vesely had, if possible, and even more remarkable journey to the final. Having tumbled to No. 123 in the world rankings, the Czech had to claw his way back into the game after a serious car crash, injury and some major time on the sidelines due to Covid-19. He admitted last year he had fallen out of love with the game and it was hard to compete.

That all seemed like the distant past as — following three incredible qualifying matches — this week he defeated former US Open champion Marin Cilic, last week’s Qatar Open champ Roberto Bautista Agut and No. 6 seed Denis Shapovalov in an epic three-hour-plus encounter in the semis.

Sandwiched in-between was a famous victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals — a match that will go down in history. It meant, for the first time since 2004, someone other than Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray or Roger Federer would hold the No. 1 ranking spot, as Daniil Medvedev took over from Djokovic at the top of the heap.

But Saturday night belonged to Rublev, as he somehow once again raised his game to superhuman levels to claim his third title in seven days — he incredibly also won the doubles in France on the same night as his singles triumph.

He said it best on court.

“I will sleep for at least two days,” Rublev said. “Then, I will think about picking up a racket and, once I am back in shape, I will be ready to go again.”

Ahead of lifting the trophy in front of 5,000 fans in Dubai, he added: "It is incredible that i am even here. Jiri has had such a great week, and it is an honour to take such a great title for the first time."

Rublev had told Gulf News on his journey to the final that he had no idea how Stefanos Tsitsipas had managed to make it to the Marseilles final and then the DDFTC showdown two years in a row back-to-back. When asked again after his triumph if he had any more clarity on the achievement, Rublev said: "Nope. I have no clue. I am sitting here beside this trophy and I can barely stand. I have no idea how I did it and even in the weeks to come, I will not understand it. Just now, all I want is plenty of sleep. My team fly out tonight, but thankfully, I might have a few days to enjoys myself. You know yourself that everything in Dubai is amazing. I will rest and then see what I do next."