Dubai: Russia’s Aslan Karatsev might have picked up a career first singles title on the ATP Tour when winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, but he made sure to school Lloyd Harris all the way during their Saturday evening final at the Aviation Club.
The only title Karatsev had won prior to Dubai was in Doha last week, when he and countryman Andrey Rublev, whom he beat in the semi-finals here on Friday evening joined forces to win the doubles prize at the Qatar Open.
Having said that, Karatsev has been riding the crest of some good form in 2021 and his experience of reaching the semis of the Australian Open, where he was beaten by Serbia’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the eventual winner, appears to have helped him raise the bar moving forward.
World No. 42 Karatsev, a wild card entrant here, admitted to feeling nervous ahead of the start of the final against No. 81-ranked Harris, who made history by becoming the first qualifier to reach the finals of an ATP 500 Masters tournament.
“Pretty nervous and every final is different. It wasn’t really easy tonight and in a final anything can happen. It was a tough week and I’m happy I won,” said Karatsev, who won 6-3, 6-2.
His nerves would have been calmed almost immediately as Harris didn’t seem the giant slayer he made his reputation out to be after accounting for top-seed and World No. 4 Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and World No. 12 Denis Shapovalov on the way to the final. Perhaps, the niggle in Harris’ thigh got the better of him on the night.
Karatsev, though, was brilliant throughout the 76 minutes and dominated Harris from the word go. Serving first, he held comfortably and broke Harris’ first service game to seize the initiative early on. Harris tried to find a way back in the match in the very next game and had a breakpoint, but Karatsev managed to hold on. He could have broken again in the sixth game, but Harris showed great resolve to keep his serve.
Harris was 0-30 up in the next game and it seemed like he was turning the corner, but then Karatsev won three points on the bounce and then saw the game out after Harris forced deuce. Frustrated by the unforced error that gave Karatsev a reprieve, Harris slammed his racket on the court.
Karatsev served out the first set in 38 minutes and kept the script intact in the second set, breaking Harris’ serve in the first game itself and holding his own without the South African budging. Harris struggled to hold his serve in the game that followed, but he should be credited for the way he saved two break points and maintained the deficit. Harris had a break point in the sixth game, but Karatsev quickly showed him who was boss with a deft cross court forehand and capitalised on the one break point earned in the game that followed.
After an hour and 11 minutes, Karatsev stepped up to serve out the match and won leaving Harris stranded at love and of course with a solid education.
“I would like to congratulate my opponent for a great week of tennis and I thank my coach and my entire team for a great job,” added Karatsev.
“I was super happy after Australia and the plan was to stay focused and believe more in myself. I lost in the second round in Doha in singles, but I was feeling good. It (having been beaten only by the top 5 players in the world this year) shows I can play with everyone and am feeling good on court. I am feeling comfortable and have a lot of confidence right now.”
Despite his final defeat, Harris said there were a lot of positives to take from Dubai.
“It’s been a fantastic week and I came through seven matches. It’s been hard for me and it’s been mentally and physically demanding. Aslan was too good today and congrats to him. He is the man of the hour,” said Harris.
Meanwhile, the doubles title went to Colombian pair of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, who beat Croatian duo Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic 7-6, 7-6.