Andrey Rublev produced one of the comebacks of the 2023 season so far on Wednesday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where he came back from the brink to defeat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 1-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(3) in a remarkable second-round clash.
Facing five match points at 1/6 in the second-set tie-break, Rublev’s title defence at the ATP 500 hung by a thread. Yet he stayed focused to reel off seven points in a row and level the match in dramatic fashion, before holding his nerve again in the decider for a stunning two-hour, 25-minute victory.
It was the third time this year that Rublev has saved match points to triumph, and the second time in a week. The 25-year-old saved two match points en route to victory against Holger Rune in the fourth round at January’s Australian Open, and three match points before he defeated Tallon Griekspoor in his Doha opener seven days ago.
“It happened already [three times] this season and I’m super happy that I’m able to win these matches against [top players],” said Rublev post-match. “The beginning [of today’s match] wasn’t good. I got frustrated. He started really well, he was hitting really hard, and I didn’t have many options, but then, little by little, I started to play and started to fight.
“I started to be positive, and I made this crazy tie-break comeback from 1/6 that I’ve never done in my life before… I’m really, really happy.”
Save 5 match points in a row? Rublev sorts it in the second set tiebreak 😮💨⁰
The defending champion advances in Dubai, taking the win against Davidovich Fokina after a three set thriller 💪@ddftennis | #DDFTennis pic.twitter.com/dXsWeRbux6
— ATP Tour (@atptour) March 1, 2023
Davidovich Fokina had made a strong start to the pair’s second ATP Head2Head meeting. The World No. 29 raced to the first set after claiming what later proved to be the only two breaks of serve in the match. Rublev cited his own mental discipline as key to maintaining belief when Davidovich Fokina looked set to complete the win.
“All the second set, I was super tight, and I was holding everything inside of me,” he said. “I didn’t even say ‘Let’s go, come on’, to myself, not even once, and I was just completely calm. Then when I won the second set, all the emotions came out.”
The victory improved Rublev’s record in Dubai to 11-2. He is now into his fourth straight quarter-final at the event, where he would become the first back-to-back champion since Roger Federer in 2014-15 if he can repeat his 2022 title run.
His quarter-final opponent will be Botic van de Zandschulp. The Dutchman earlier produced a comeback of his own, rallying to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory against Mikael Ymer.
Lorenzo Sonego later succeeded where Davidovich Fokina had fallen short by completing a second-round victory against a Top 10 opponent. The Italian delivered a clinical display to defeat fourth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6(4), 6-4 and reach the quarter-finals in Dubai for the first time.
Sonego endured recent heartbreak of his own last week in Doha, where he let slip three match points before falling to Andy Murray in the first round. He ensured there would be no repeat of that experience in Dubai by firing 24 winners and winning 89 per cent (39/44) of points behind his first serve for his first win against World No. 9 Auger-Aliassime in three attempts.
Sometimes it’s how much you attack; sometimes, it’s how well you attack
Sonego was highly efficient with his #ConversionScore today. Plays Zverev in the 1/4 Finals #ConversionScore calculates the percentage of points won when the player has been #InAttack#TennisInsights pic.twitter.com/An0xEWQcAG
— Tennis Insights (@tennis_insights) March 1, 2023
“It was really tough today, but I played really well,” said the World No. 67 Sonego after securing the fifth Top 10 win of his career. “I was really aggressive with my serve… I improved my game this year and I [have] some good experience on Tour. I’m really happy to beat Felix.”
Sonego takes on Alexander Zverev for a spot in the semi-finals in Dubai. The former World No. 2’s bid to rediscover his best level after long-term injury continued to gain momentum on Wednesday, when he saw off Christopher O’Connell 7-5, 6-4.