Andrey Rublev
Defending champion Andrey Rublev celebrates after defeating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the Round of 16 in the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on March 1, 2023. Davidovich Fokina blew five match points in the tiebreaker to gift the match to Rublev. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Second seed Andrey Rublev staged an escape act to keep his title defence alive with a 1-6, 7-6, 7-6 win over Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina to enter the quarterfinals of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Wednesday.

Defending champion Rublev was staring at five match points when World No. 29 Davidovich Fokina led by a set and 6-1 in the second set tiebreaker. That was when the Spaniard suffered a meltdown. The Russian reeled of seven points in a row and roared after he put the match on level terms. Rublev held the whip hand in the third set tiebreak and ran out the winner after two hours and 25 minutes.

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“I am super happy to win this match against such a great and tough player. The beginning wasn’t good. He [Davidovich Fokina] started really well, hitting hard, and I didn’t have many options. Then I started to be positive and came back in the crazy tiebreak from 6-1. I’ve never done it in my life before. I won the final set tiebreak also. So, I’m really, really happy,” Rublev said.

The 25-year-old meets Botic van de Zandschulp in the last eight. World No. 33 Van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands saw off the challenge of Mikael Ymer of Sweden, ranked 59 in the world, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

How Rublev found his rhythm

Rublev’s quarterfinal meeting was in jeopardy when Davidovich Fokina shot off the blocks and raced through the first set, breaking the Russian twice and hammering winners down the line. The reigning champion slowly found his rhythm on his serve and kept up with the Spaniard in the second set. But the World No. 29 pulled away in the tiebreaker to lead 6-1. Rublev continued to serve well while the nerves got the better of Davidovich Fokina, who smashed his racquet after losing the set. He was penalised for racquet abuse.

The usually expressive Rublev was quiet, bottling his emotions until he won the second set.” All my emotions, I was keeping them inside because the match was super tight. Even [when] I was doing some good rallies or something, I was not even saying ‘c’mon’ until the last moment when I won the second set. I was feeling that maybe if I scream something or say something, then I [might] lose two or three points, [and] the match will be done,” Rublev said.

The deciding set followed the pattern of the second set, but the Russian was dominant on his serve, stringing together love games. Davidovich Fokina kept up the fight until Rublev ran up a 6-1 lead tiebreaker. The Spaniard could save only two of the five match points.

All of Rublev’s emotions came tumbling out after he closed out the match. A roar, a shout and fist pumping all were there. “In the end, it doesn’t matter. Then I scream. You can scream, and you’re not going to lose straightaway three points,” he said.

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Fourth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime falters

Felix Auger-Aliassime became the first seed to fall on the day as the Canadian fourth seed was tripped by Italian Lorenzo Sonego. The World No. 67 won 7-6, 6-4 to enter the quarterfinals of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Wednesday.

The Italian can wield a guitar as well as a tennis racquet. His song ‘Un Solo Secondo’, created in collaboration with friend ‘AlterEdo’, has surpassed the one-million mark on Spotify.

Auger-Aliassime, who came to Dubai after a semifinal run at the Qatar Open, needed three sets to beat Maxime Cressy in the first round. But against Sonego, the Canadian was unable to keep pace as the Italian wrapped up the tiebreaker and took the momentum into the second set, which Sonego won relatively easily.

Zverev, Djokovic and Medvedev in last 8

“It was really tough today, but I played really well,” said the World No. 67. “I was really aggressive with my serve. I improved my game this year and I [have] some good experience . I’m really happy to beat Felix,” added Sonego, who will meet seventh-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the last eight. Zverev defeated World No. 92 Christopher O’Connell of Australia 7-5, 6-4.

In other matches, top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia defeated Duchman Tallon Grieksppor 6-2, 6-3 for a quarterfinal meeting with fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who despatched qualifier Pavel Kotov 7-5, 6-1.

Third seed Daniil Medvedev progressed to the quarterfinals beating Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-2 to face off with eighth-seeded Croatian Borna Coric, who overcame Australia’s Thannasi Kokkianakis 6-7, 6-3, 7-5.