ABU DHABI // For a man who only found out he was going to be playing at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Christmas night, and who landed in Abu Dhabi early Thursday morning, Nicolas Almagro did not look bad on his tournament debut yesterday evening.
In effect, he began his match against Janko Tipsarevic late, as well, looking second best through much of the first two sets, before waking up in a second-set tiebreak, winning it 7-3 and zipping through the third to win 2-6, 7-6, 6-2.
In the process, Almagro, a replacement for countryman Rafael Nadal, no less, upset the storyline that seemed to be emerging of an all-Serbia final between Novak Djokovic - who won comfortably - and the ninth-ranked Tipsarevic.
The longest game of the tournament, at one hour, 48 minutes, was an uneven one either side of an entertaining middle set.
Tipsarevic began brightly, breaking Almagro in the first game and dominating the set, languidly and elegantly. At that point Almagro seemed every inch a jet-lagged, last-minute replacement.
But it was at the very end of the second set when Almagro loosened up and forced himself into the game; the wind picked up as well on what had been a dusty, sandy day and Tipsarevic lost rhythm. Two Tipsarevic errors allowed Almagro a surprise set point at 30-40 at 5-6. He wasted that, but secured a mini-break in the tiebreak immediately and never looked back.
"I was feeling in control of much of first set and the second," Tipsarevic said, explaining the sudden turnaround. "Every time I was winning my serves comfortably until 6-5 game but I just played wrong after that.
"The wind was catching up in third set and it was tougher for me to step in and stay closer to the line. He played a terrific first game of third set and loosened up."
Almagro began the final set terrifically, a couple of winners setting up three break points in the first game; another Tipsarevic error handed Almagro the break and the seal was set.
Almagro cranked up his serve, finishing with 12 aces. The nature of the tournament, as much as anything, got to Tipsarevic.
"It's not easy for me because I like generally to pump my fist, scream 'come on', talk to myself loud especially when it starts going downhill, that kind of wakes me up.
"But here it's an exhibition match so I didn't really feel comfortable in pumping my fists and screaming 'come on' for no particular reason."
Almagro was not entirely surprised that Nadal ruled himself out, especially after his compatriot said yesterday he also will miss the Doha event next week and the Australian Open, as well.
"He told me he's not 100 per cent right now and wants to wait a little bit. He doesn't want to play in Melbourne, it's five sets, his knee's not really good, he's not ready for that," said Almagro.
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