Tunisian wildcard, the surprise story of the week, fails on Friday to summon another valiant display but exits tournament with reputation enhanced
Malek Jaziri’s superb ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships ends as Roberto Bautista Agut advances to final
Malek Jaziri’s dream run at the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships came to a halt on Friday, with the Tunisian wildcard defeated 6-3, 6-4 in the semi-finals by Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
The world No 117, never before competing at this stage of the tournament, could not maintain his quest for a first ATP Tour title, lasting one hour and 19 minutes on Centre Court. Jaziri had earlier this week knocked out top seed, and world No 4, Grigor Dimitrov.
The first Arab to contest the last-four in Dubai in 16 years, crowd-favourite Jaziri played in front of a vociferous following at the Aviation Club, but their early enthusiasm was damped somewhat when he failed to hold his first service game. World No 23 Agut, the third seed, saw out the opening set in little more than half an hour.
However, Jaziri raced back into the match when he broke to go 3-1 up in the second set before promptly increasing his lead. But Agut then reeled off five games on the bounce to clinch the win and move to within one match of an eighth ATP Tour title. The Spaniard will face No 2 seed Lucas Pouille, of France, in Saturday’s final.
Speaking after his fourth match of a standout week, a visibly deflated Jaziri said: “It's a tough one. I was not ready today physically 100 per cent like I wanted. I gave everything on the court. I put a lot of energy to come back in the second set. At 4-1, I had a few opportunities. I went down a little bit physically.
“He made me play every ball. Every time one more ball. It’s not easy to play a player like him. Every time you have to push more, to go forward to the court, to make winners. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. It’s not easy to play guys like that if you're not ready physically.”
Understandably, Jaziri rated the tournament as one of the best of his career. He turns out next at a Challenger Tour event - the second-tier circuit in men’s tennis - in China.
“It's my best result in an ATP 500,” said Jaziri, set to climb back into the world's top 100 when the updated rankings are released on Monday. “I did this already in 250, but first time in 500. I played good tennis. I tried to be aggressive today, to give everything on the court. He was playing very good. He's a very solid player.
“But I take the positives away. I took a lot of confidence from this week. I need to build all the positive things, to continue for positive energy, a positive way to work. Hopefully I will make a good season this year.”
For Agut, he was delighted to put himself in position for a second title of 2018. Last month, he triumphed in Auckland.
“I'm happy,” he said. “I'm in the first final in a 500 event. I think I did a great match. He had a very good support from the crowd. It was a nice feeling on the court. I tried to play very aggressive. I think I did it.”
On facing Pouille in the final, Agut added: “He's making good performances. He's having very good results this past month. He passed a very tough moment today in the semi-final. He will be a tough opponent tomorrow.”