DUBAI: Novak Djokovic held off a gallant challenge from Karen Khachanov in front of a capacity crowd on Wednesday to win 6-3 7-6 and reach the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Earlier, Jannik Sinner denied Andy Murray his 700th career victory when he defeated the former world No. 1 with a 7-5 6-2 result, and second seed Andrey Rublev also advanced to the quarter-finals, but he was challenged well by Soonwoo Kwon before winning 4-6 6-0 6-3.
It appeared as if Djokovic would enjoy a comfortable evening against Khachanov as he took the first set in just 32 minutes. But he achieved that with just one break of serve at 2-1, and the second set was a struggle for the world No. 1 and it took him a further 66 minutes to bring the match to a conclusion.
Although Djokovic broke in the second set to lead 2-1, he then had to fight off three break points to hold the next game and, as Khachanov grew in confidence, he broke Djokovic to level at 4-4. Djokovic then failed to convert two break points to lead 5-4, before claiming the tiebreak 7-2.
“He started playing better in the second set, hitting the spots with the serve well. I kind of backed up a bit. Things changed. We were going toe-to-toe,” Djokovic said.
“I think in the 12th game on the second set when I was serving to stay in the set and take it to a tiebreak, I found the rhythm for the serve. I had really quick, smooth service game, and it continued onwards in the tiebreak, two great returns on 5-2 up to finish up the match. Yeah, best possible tiebreak that I could play. It was a fantastic test. I really enjoyed the atmosphere as well tonight on the court.”
“It was with great pleasure that we saw so many excited fans enjoying the exquisite skills of the world No. 1, Novak Djokovic, and it was exciting to see how well he managed to overcome a difficult opponent,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.
Sinner, who had saved three match points against Davidovich Fokina in the first round, was never under any serious pressure from Murray and didn’t face a break point, although it took until late in the first set for him to gain an advantage. Fourth-seeded Sinner did hold two break points at 2-2, but it wasn’t until the pair were tied at 5-5 that he made his breakthrough by breaking Murray to love before serving out for the set.
Sinner then made the better start to the second set, breaking again to lead 1-0 and, as Murray grew increasingly angry at his failure to reverse the momentum of the contest, Sinner took a commanding lead by breaking again to lead 4-1.
“Again, didn’t feel like I played a good match,” said Murray, who had struggled to overcome qualifier Christopher O’Connell in the first round. “Had some opportunities at the end of the first set, then the game I got broken at 5-all, I think I missed all four first serves in that game.
“Then, yeah, responded poorly to that mentally. Got down a break early in the second. Yeah, mentally was not great from that point. Crucial part of the match, a little bit of adversity, and I didn’t respond well to it. Yeah, I’m going to have to fix that, work on that, and hopefully do better next tournaments.”
Rublev was caught cold at the start of his match against an opponent he had beaten with some ease recently in Rotterdam and was broken in the opening game. Kwon not only held on to his advantage but held a set point on Rublev’s serve at 5-3 before serving out the set himself.
Rublev managed to turn things around in the second set, but not without considerable difficulty. He needed five break points to lead 2-0 and another four to break a second time to lead 4-0. And then just one break separated them in the deciding set, with Rublev again needing three break points before taking a 3-1 lead.
He will face Mackenzie McDonald for a place in the semifinals after the American followed up his first-round victory over defending champion Aslan Karatsev by defeating Filip Krajinovic 6-4 7-6.
In other second-round matches, qualifier Jiri Vesely beat eighth seed and former Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2 6-4, fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz defeated Alex Molcan 6-3 6-2, sixth seed Denis Shapovalov ended the run of qualifier Taro Daniel 6-4 6-3 and qualifier Ricardas Berankis advanced 6-4 7-6 against Alexei Popyrin.
“We have once again seen a number of exciting battles today, not only on Center Court but on Court One where two qualifiers advanced to the quarter-finals,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “It will be very interesting to see if they can continue their success in the quarter-finals.”
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