Andrey Rublev had to survive some anxious moments in the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship to keep his title defence on track. None of the nerves was evident on Friday, as the second seed played his best match of the tournament to outwit seventh seed Alexander Zverev 6-3 7-6 to enter the final for the second year in a row.
“I had a couple of match points, but he played well, but in the end, at 9/9, I made a good return, and then I said, ‘Ok, let’s try to make it here’. I won a crazy rally, and I was lucky. It was a super intense tie-break,” the Russian World No. 6 said at the courtside interview.
Rublev, chasing his first title of the year, had never beaten Zverev in five meetings. But those bitter memories never seemed to haunt him as the Russian broke the German World No. 16 in the first game to set the tone for the match.
In a brilliant exhibition of crisp hitting, Rublev controlled the rallies and traded breaks with Zverev. He closed out the first set with another break, his crunching crosscourt forehand clipping the tramlines. In the second set tiebreaker, the second-seeded Russian saved a set point before wrapping it up on his sixth match point after one hour and 58 minutes.
“I was thinking it was going to be a third set. I was preparing mentally for the third set, but I somehow saved a set point,” said Rublev, who has been friends with Zverev since they were 10. That was before Zverev’s family moved to Germany.