Dubai: Malek Jaziri remained one step away from matching the best performance by an Arab in Dubai, Younes El Aynaoui’s final appearance in 2002, with a hard-fought 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over Greek teenager Stefanis Tsitsipas at the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open late on Thursday.
The win will see the world No. 117 from Tunisia take on third seed Roberto Bautista Agut, after the Spaniard had packed off young Croatian Borna Coric 7-6, 6-4 in the afternoon’s first match.
“I can only hope this dream will continue,” the 34-year-old Jaziri told an appreciative centre court crowd after taking more than two hours to defeat his gutsy 19-year-old opponent from Greece.
In fact, at first it seemed the Greek teenager was on the verge of denying the Arab star of creating his own bit of history of a semi-final in Dubai after battling back from a set down to draw level with the second set. But, egged on by the crowd Jaziri dug in and got the necessary crucial break in the sixth game to wrap up set and match 6-3 to a thunderous applause.
“I have spent the last few months putting in a lot of hard work, and today all this is showing off on court,” Jaziri acknowledged.
“It is important that I keep pushing myself and believing that I can make things happen. I am playing the best tennis of my life at the moment and I hope to continue,” he added.
Jaziri is now bound towards matching the record of Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui — a losing finalist to Fabrice Santoro in three sets in 2002.
On the other hand, Tsitsipas came in with the dual distinction of being the youngest player in the tournament and with a wild card. Tsitsipas has already earned the respect of fellow players after becoming the first Greek player ever to break into the top-100 of the ATP Rankings — a feat he achieved in October last year.
Earlier in the afternoon, UAE resident Coric — who has had success here after scalping Andy Murray in 2015 — started off slow saving two break points before moving in and breaking the third seed in the third game for a 2-1 lead. But the Spaniard broke back in the eighth for 4-4 to go into the tiebreak that he went on to win 7-4.
In the second set, Bautista Agut broke for the first time in the ninth game for 5-4 and then served out set and match in an hour and 42 minutes to become the first semi-finalist of the day.
Bautista Agut was pleased with the way he had raised his game for the occasion. “I am happy. I think I played very good tennis. It was not easy to beat Borna. He’s very solid. He was serving very well and he was playing very aggressive too. Well, I’m happy because it’s my best match of the tournament,” the Spaniard said.
“I was very solid. I think I didn’t rest during the full match. I played all the points, every point. I was very focused throughout the match, trying to hit, to manage the match a little bit more than him, to put him under pressure and to make him feel a little bit exhausted and from playing with a lot of rhythm,” he added.
Making his first-ever semi-final in Dubai, the 29-year-old who has already picked up the Auckland Open title at the beginning of 2018, Bautista Agut was more than pleased to face Jaziri in Friday’s semi-final.
(Singles quarter-finals) Roberto Bautista Agut bt Borna Coric 7-6, 6-4