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Briton fights back from a set down against giant-serving Shapovalov to secure landmark 500th hard court career win and safe passage at ATP 500 event

Frustrated sixth-seed Mannarino falls to the Netherlands' Botic Van de Zandschulp in straight sets after conduct warning for on-court anger


Dubai, UAE – February 27, 2024:  Former champion Andy Murray dug deep to edge out Canada's Denis Shapovalov 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in front of a jubilant Centre Court Crowd at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night.


The come-from-behind victory saw Murray – who claimed a solitary Dubai title in 2017 – register a landmark 500th career win on hard courts. He becomes only the fifth player to achieve the feat, joining luminaries of the game Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andre Agassi.


“It's not bad, is it?” Murray said after reaching the milestone. “Hard courts have been a great surface for me over the years, and getting to 500 is a lot of matches. I am very proud of that, not a lot of players have done it, so it's great to do it before I'm done.”


In challenging winds, the twilight ATP 500 Round of 32 match started with eight consecutive service holds as both players found early rhythm on their own serve. The first break points arrived in game nine, as Shapovalov found the outer corners of Centre Court with a pair of dazzling one-handed backhand winners. After squandering the first chance, the 24-year-old grabbed the second to move 5-4 up, then held serve to claim the first set.


With both players holding serve for the first three games of the second set, Murray finally broke the big-serving Shapovalov in game four. The Brit's ecstasy, however, immediately turned to agony as Shapovalov instantly broke back, then held, to make it 3-3.


As Murray, 12 years his opponent's senior, increasingly threatened the Shapovalov serve, the Canadian's monstrous first service cannons got him out of jail on numerous occasions. Murray, receiving, regularly stood someway behind the ‘Dubai' signage adorning the hardcourt beyond the baseline. The tactic proved fruitless, as Shapovalov unleashed 215-kilometre serves time after time with pinpoint accuracy.


Battle-worn and grimacing repeatedly after several points near the end of the second set, Murray found emergency reserves of energy to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-5 to level the match – much to the delight of an adoring crowd.


Murray then broke Shapovalov in the opening game of the third set, which progressed on serve until 5-3 when Shapovalov suddenly found himself serving to stay in the match. With unforced errors now littering the Canadian's game, Murray unleashed a glorious backhand winner at 30-30 to set-up match point. It proved to be the only opportunity the British veteran needed, as Shapovalov volleyed Murray's return of serve into the net.


“Both of us haven't won too many matches lately; he's coming back after missing a large part of last year. He's played well on these courts in the past and he served unbelievably,” said Murray, whose win preserved his record of having never lost in the first round in Dubai. “I had to get the balance right between reacting to his big shots, but not just putting balls back into the court. It wasn't easy, but I managed to get it done in the end.”


Van de Zandschulp s scalp of sixth seed Mannarino


In the ATP 500 event's opening match on Centre Court, the Netherlands' Botic Van de Zandschulp upset sixth seed Adrian Mannarino, the World No19, in straight sets. With both players holding serve and almost politely swapping breaks enroute to a 6-6 stalemate, Van de Zandschulp, the World No75, managed to pull clear in the tie-break to seal the tiebreak 7-3.


After the match umpire handed Mannarino a conduct warning between sets for smashing his racquet in frustration, the second set remained a tight affair. Eleven consecutive holds of serve suggested another tie-break lay in wait, but Van de Zandschulp got the better of his French opponent's service game at exactly the right time to triumph 7-6, 7-5 in just under two hours.


In the evening games under the lights, World No5 Andrey Rublev safely negotiated his route to the Round of 16, defeating Zhizhen Zhang 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. The former Dubai champion was made to fight by his opponent, however, with the World No46's serve looking particularly formidable as he claimed the first set.


“It was a really tough match,” said Rublev. “I started well, but he was serving unreal. I don't know how high his percentage was on the first serve, but it feels like some games lasted only one second, and serves were around 220 and super tough to return.”


“I had a chance in the tiebreak. I was 4-2 up. I had an easy forehand. I missed it. Then he played unbelievable. Then he made a winner and two aces. I didn't have many chances. The only good thing was that I was good mentally today and I was able to stay in the match. When I had a chance in the second set, I was able to take it straightaway.”


A Centre Court surprise came even closer in the following match as World No8 Hubert Hurkacz came within two matchpoints of crashing out in the first round. His tie with German Jan-Lennard Struff went the distance as both men held their thumping serves for three straight sets, before the Pole squeezed through on the decisive set tiebreak to claim a 7-6, 4-7, 7-6 win.


“He's such a great guy and great opponent,” said Hurkacz, who will face either Christopher O'Connell or Maximilian Marterer in the Round of 16. “In the end, I got a little bit lucky, but I tried to compete until the last point and that is what I always try to do. It could have gone either way.


“Focus was definitely a huge part of the match. You have to be on it all the time, and on your serve especially because he's not going to give you any chances on his serve. That's what you need to do on your serve too. I managed to save some breakpoints, he did as well, but I'm really happy to get the win in the end and through to the next round.”


On Court 1 meanwhile, Jordanian wildcard Abdullah Shelbayh retired with neck pain in his first-round match against the Netherlands' Tallon Griekspoor. The 20-year-old had complained of a stiff neck earlier the day and sought a medical timeout during the first set shortly before succumbing 5-7 to his more experience opponent. Soon after, while trailing 0-2 in the second set, Shelbayh signalled to the umpire that he could not continue. Griekspoor will now face Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik in the Round of 16.


The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. 

Posted by : GoDubai Editorial Team
Viewed 6101 times
Posted on : Tuesday, February 27, 2024  
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