Dubai: Hubert Hurkacz was literally the last player accepted into the main draw. On Wednesday, the 22-year-old Pole was celebrating his biggest career win to join French showman Gael Monfils, Nikoloz Basilashvili and qualifier Ricardas Berankis in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Hurkacz scalped top seed and world No. 6 Kei Nishikori 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 to reach his first-ever ATP Tour quarter-final, while Monfils got the measure of Cypriot wild card Marcos Baghdatis before packing him off 6-3, 6-2 to also make the last eight.
Georgian Basilashvili, who had stunned fourth-seeded Karen Khachanov in their opener on Monday, continued with his giant-killing ways, packing off defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, while Lithuanian qualifier Berankis enjoyed his fourth win on the trot with a 6-4, 6-1 win over American Denis Kudla.
Winner of the Rotterdam Open two weeks back, Monfils will now take on Berankis, while Hurkacz will await the winner of the Court 1 encounter between fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and qualifier Egor Gerasimov.
In a match that was played under an overcast sky, Hurkacz was left throwing his arms up in the air with disbelief after more than two hours of action. “I was trying to fight for every point out there,” the Dubai debutant told media later. “Kei is an unbelievable player and I had to serve good. That gave me some opportunities to attack after the serve and also win a couple of easy points. Against such a great player, it’s very important to have some free points. I was also I think returning quite well.
“The match was a little up and down. But I’m very happy with the win today.”
After an exchange of serves between the two, Hurkacz got a second opportunity in the 12th game to win the opening set 7-5. In the second, his Japanese opponent ran off to a 4-0 lead with breaks in the first and third games. But Hurkacz just stuck around gamely with a break back in the eighth. However, he couldn’t sustain the tempo and was broken a third time in the 11th as Nishikori served out the set in 50 minutes.
“For sure I wasn’t returning well and I was missing some easy shots at the beginning on his serve. Finally, I played a better game. He was a little surprised because I was making some balls and I was staying aggressive. That gave me a lot of confidence,” Hurkacz said.
“The second set didn’t start the way I wanted it. I had to fight to come back. I am happy with the win in three sets.”
The Pole, who celebrated his birthday on February 11, was fortunate to get into the main draw here. “I was lucky to get last in,” he said. “I thought I was going to play qualifiers and then I end up playing in the main draw. It’s a huge win for me because it’s my first top-10 win.
“Last week I didn’t play the best match against Stefanos [Tsistipas]. The loss also helped me. Maybe I was better prepared mentally for this battle today. I mean, it’s given me huge confidence. I’m going to try to keep going forward.
Though finishing off his match in 65 minutes, Monfils was aware of the challenges. “It wasn’t easy for me today,” he admitted.
“It was windy and it was not that comfortable. I was struggling a little bit to hit the ball. It was tough for me to be aggressive. I think I went a little bit for the back and tried to shape a little bit more and be patient, push him and focus on the key points with my serve.”
Hubert Hurkacz bt Kei Nishikori 7-5, 5-7, 6-2; Ricardas Berankis bt Denis Kudla 6-4, 6-1; Gael Monfils bt Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-2; Nikoloz Basilashvili bt Roberto Bautista Agut 6-7, 6-4, 6-3; Marton Fucsovics bt Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-2.