Dubai: The men’s competition opened with two seeds getting knocked out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.
Fourth seed Karen Khachanov went down 4-6, 1-6 to Georgia’s Nikoloz Basillashvili while seventh seed Milos Raonic caved in 4-6, 7-5, 4-6 against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.
Holding up the lower end of the draw gamely was former finalist Fernando Verdasco as he fought his way into the second round with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 “mental win” over qualifier Thomas Fabbiano from Italy.
Verdasco, a runner-up here in 2017, will now await the winner of the high-profile match between former seven-time champion Roger Federer and his doubles partner Philipp Kohlschreiber to be played later on Monday.
“After two hours, I still didn’t know where the wind was going. These were really, really difficult conditions for me. I think this was a very mental match,” Verdasco said later.
“I finally went through because I just keep fighting and fighting no matter how bad I was feeling. I think that was the key today for sure. Not the return, not the serve, not the forehand, nothing, just the fighting spirit and the mental game with these tough conditions,” he added.
Fabbiano broke early in the first to win 6-3 in 36 minutes. After both players traded breaks early, it was Verdasco edging through with a crucial second break in the ninth for 6-3 in 46 minutes. The Spaniard was not exactly off to the best of starts in the deciding third set as Fabbiano broke in the first and held for a 2-0 cushion.
However, Verdasco broke right back and then a second break in the seventh saw the former finalist close the match.
A quarter-finalist in Sofia earlier this month, the 35-year-old Verdasco is now ranked No. 32 in the world. At the season-opening grand slam in Australia, Verdasco famously lost in five sets against Marin Cilic after being two sets up. In 2017, Verdasco had lost to Andy Murray in the final in Dubai.
Khachanov, one of 10 under-23 players to reach the third round at the Australian Open — the most at a Grand Slam since the 2008 French Open — could never come to terms with centre court conditions. After both had stayed on serve, it was Basilashvili landing the only break in the 10th to take the set 6-4 in 42 minutes.
The second set was even more one-sided with the Georgian breaking in the second to never look behind while wrapping up set and match in 69 minutes. Basilashvili was taken by surprise at the ease of his win. “I am quite surprised, for sure. I know Karen is not having his best time at this moment but I think I also did not have a great beginning to the season. I am really happy how I was able to manage my nerves during the whole match, especially in the windy conditions,” Basilashvili said.
Canada’s Raonic was left with an early flight back home to Monte Carlo after going down in three sets to Struff while Marton Fucsovics also moved into the second round with a 6-1, 7-6 win over Damir Dzumhur.