Defending champion Andrey Rublev’s 7-5, 6-2 first-round victory against Filip Krajinovic at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday was very much a tale of two halves.
Krajinovic came racing out the blocks against the second seed at the hard-court ATP 500, expertly redirecting Rublev’s powerful groundstrokes to open an early 5-2 lead. Rublev, who is trying to become the first back-to-back Dubai champion since Roger Federer in 2014-15, responded in style. He won 11 of the next 13 games to seal an 89-minute victory and level his ATP Head2Head series with the Serbian at 3-3.
“[It was crazy], crazy things were in my head… Filip is one of my good friends and we always have tough battles,” said Rublev when asked about his early struggles. “So today I was going on court thinking that it was going to be a really tough match, and when he started the way he did, I didn’t know what to do because he was playing so good.
“Somehow I calmed myself and said ‘OK, restart at the bottom and raise my level’ and I started to play much, much better. I was able to turn the match around and finish the match in a good way.”
Rublev became increasingly penetrating with his groundstrokes as the match wore on, striking 28 winners and converting four of six break points to improve his record in Dubai to 11-2. The World No. 6 is chasing his first title of 2023, and his sixth ATP 500 crown overall, this week in the U.A.E.
His second-round opponent will be Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who defeated wild card Malek Jaziri 6-2, 6-0. Tunisia’s Jaziri, a former World No. 42, was playing the final match of his professional career.
Another wild card, Thanasi Kokkinakis, enjoyed first-round success on Monday. The Australian saved four Quentin Halys set points in the second set before completing a 6-4, 7-6(9) victory against the Frenchman on his Dubai debut.
The former World No. 69 Kokkinakis captured his fifth ATP Challenger Tour title in Bahrain eight days ago, and he will try to extend his winning run against eighth seed Borna Coric or Daniel Evans in the second round in Dubai.
Lorenzo Sonego prevailed 7-5, 6-3 in a big-serving battle against Marc-Andrea Huesler to book his second-round spot. The Italian fired 23 winners, including 10 aces, to triumph in his maiden tour-level meeting with the Swiss. He will next face fourth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime or Maxime Cressy.
Tallon Griekspoor and Pavel Kotov also advanced on Monday, both in three sets. Griekspoor defeated Constant Lestienne 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, with the No. 39-ranked Dutchman set to take on top seed Novak Djokovic or Tomas Machac in the second round, while qualifier Kotov beat Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3).