Dubai Tennis: Fernando Verdasco rallies to reach second round as Jan-Lennard Struff causes upset
Spaniard will face either Roger Federer or Philipp Kohlschreiber next while Karen Khachanov and Milos Raonic suffer first-round exits at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Former finalist Fernando Verdasco survived a day of shocks during the first round at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.
The Spaniard, runner-up to Andy Murray at the tournament two years ago, had to fight back from a set down on Centre Court against qualifier Thomas Fabbiano to eventually prevail 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Verdasco had to not only battle his opponent during a contest that lasted almost two hours, but the tricky conditions and, at times, his emotions. The fiery world No 32, ranked 53 places above Fabbiano, was growing visibly frustrated with the swirling wind on court, but did enough to rally and book a place in the second round.
There, Verdasco will meet Roger Federer, the seven-time Dubai champion who later came through his night match against German Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Asked about the early afternoon conditions against Fabbiano, a relieved Verdsaco said: “It was super-difficult. After two hours, I still didn't know where the wind was going. My feeling was one point was going one way, the other point was going the other. Even sometimes if the point was long, it was changing during the point. Really, really difficult conditions.
“It was a very mental match. I finally went through because I just keep fighting and fighting no matter how bad I was feeling. 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.
“I didn't feel comfortable in the whole match. Hopefully I will feel a little bit better tomorrow. If I want to win, I will need much, much better feeling with the ball and the conditions.”
Verdasco was one of the more high-profile players to stick around on Monday. Fourth seed Karen Khachanov crashed out after a straight-sets defeat to Nikoloz Basilashvili, while seventh seed Milos Raonic lost to German Jan-Lennard Struff.
Basilashvili, who had lost both his previous matches to Khachanov, rattled through the match in one hour and nine minutes, winning 6-4, 6-1. It continues a regrettable run for Khachanov in Dubai: in three appearances, the Russian has never made it beyond the opening round.
Basilashvili said he had not expected to drop only five matches to someone of Khachanov's calibre, despite him winning only two of his seven matches thus far in 2019.
“Quite surprised, for sure," the impressive Georgian said. “I know Karen is not having his best time at this moment. But I also did not have great beginning of the season.
“How I was able to manage my nerves just the whole match, especially in the windy conditions, which were really tough – I’m really happy.”
For Khachanov, he will stay in Dubai to contest the doubles in a search for some form.
“In general, it was little bit strange conditions,” he said. “He's a tough opponent. I give all credit. He plays really well when he's on.
"It's a little bit of everything: conditions, all the week I was really feeling good hitting. But today was some strange shots because of the wind, plus he was hitting super-aggressive. Sometimes I couldn't come to offence. I was defending all the time, not playing from myself. Just have to accept it then. That's it.”
Elsewhere, another upset arrived on Court 1, when Canadian world No 14 Raonic lost on his Dubai debut. The Canadian was defeated 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 by Struff, who ranks 40 places below Raonic at No 54.
Updated: February 25, 2019 09:24 PM