Andrey Rublev
Second seed Andrey Rublev in action against Filip Krajinovic in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Monday. Rublev won in straight sets. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

The status of reigning champion comes with additional pressure. Andrey Rublev of Russia was feeling it, and the form of his rival Filip Krajinovic of Serbia made matters worse. But the second-seeded Rublev overcame the early jitters to beat Krajinovic 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Monday.

After the match, Rublev said: “This is a new tournament for me. I have some great memories, but that’s in the past. I am happy to be in the second round,” the Russian said, who wrapped the match in 89 minutes to improve his record in Dubai to 11-2.

It wasn’t plain sailing for Rublev, whose title defence ran into early trouble as Krajinovic broke him and ran up a 5-2 lead. When the Serbian threatened to run away with the set, the second seed soon clicked into gear and cranked up his game with precise and powerful serves to hold easily.

He seemed to take confidence from a love game and began to find the range with his groundstrokes. With his forehand buzzing, Rublev reeled off five games in a row as he broke Krajinovic twice and served out the set in 53 minutes.

Rublev regains his touch

The second set was one-way traffic as Rublev served well and followed it up with crisp forehands down the line. The Serbian fought back briefly, but Rublev was on song.

In all, he struck 28 winners and converted four of six break points.

The Russian, who lost to Czech Jiri Lehecka in the Qatar Open quarterfinals last week, said: “[It was crazy], crazy things were in my head... Filip is one of my good friends, and I lost the last match against him. So today, I was going on the court thinking that it was going to be a really tough match, and when he started the way he did, I didn’t know what to do because he was playing so good.

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“Somehow, I calmed myself and said, ‘OK, restart at the bottom and raise my level,’ and I started to play much, much better. I was able to turn the match around and finish the match in a good way,” Rublev said at the courtside interview.

The Russian, a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open last month, said: “Every match, I try to put my emotions in the right direction. And I try to keep improving,” he added.

The World No. 6 is chasing his first title of 2023 in Dubai. His second-round opponent is Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who defeated wild card Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 6-2, 6-0. A former World No. 42, it was Jaziri’s last match of his professional career.