Malek Jaziri is hoping his big upset over world No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov in the Dubai first round on Tuesday can serve as an inspiration for young Arabs looking to follow in his footsteps.
The Tunisian, currently ranked 117 in the world, took out the top-seeded Dimitrov 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a thrilling encounter in front of a buoyant Dubai crowd.
Aged 34, Jaziri claimed the first top-10 victory of his career having entered the contest with Dimitrov carrying a 0-10 losing record against opposition from that elite bracket.
“I was hearing the cheers from a lot of young Arab kids and after I won I saw how happy they all were for me. I hope that this can show them that us Arabs can compete with and defeat the best players in the world, as long we work hard for it,” Jaziri told Sport360 after the match.
Appearing in the Dubai main draw for a sixth consecutive year, Jaziri was handed a wildcard into this week’s event, and he certainly justified the invitation by taking down Dimitrov. His best appearance here was making the quarter-finals in 2014.
“I feel so good here in Dubai. They gave me a lot of opportunities in the past, like with wild cards. I got a lot of experience, playing top guys here in Dubai. I played last year against Andy Murray, the year before Novak Djokovic, five years ago I played Roger Federer as well. In Dubai, I only played top seeds,” said Jaziri.
“But I knew one day it would happen (and I would get the win).”
Dimitrov arrived in Dubai still dealing with the flu and was not at his best throughout the match.
The Bulgarian, who won the ATP Finals last November, struck 12 double faults which indicates the shoulder problem he picked up at the Australian Open has probably not cleared up.
Still, Dimitrov refused to give excuses during his press conference.
“You have days like this that you can’t really do much else. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play my game to the extent that I was looking for. Movement was not good over the court. I thought I served okay for a little bit, but then I lost my rhythm again,” said Dimitrov.
“Of course, all the credit to Malek. He played a good game. He was strong throughout the whole match. Actually was hitting pretty good shots. I mean, nothing to lose. Also pretty much a lot of luck was on his side, let calls.
“You control what you can control. Tonight, yeah, I couldn’t control anything on my side.”
Asked about his shoulder, the 26-year-old said: “There’s no point to give any excuses right now.
“Honestly, there’s not much else for me to say except I need to keep on going with the same attitude. That’s the only thing I feel like I can really work on right now. I mean, the rest, how the body will feel, all that, again, I can only control what I can control: the rehab, the right amount of treatment, the fitness side, the preventive side for anything. Yeah, all those things are going to come into play.
“So yeah, I mean, that’s about it right now. Also I don’t feel the need to get too down on myself.”
The pair were clinical on serve in the first nine games of the match before Jaziri blinked, double-faulting twice to hand over the opening set to Dimitrov.
The Bulgarian top seed however showed kinks in his serving armour in the second set, double-faulting six times. Jaziri squandered multiple break point opportunities but finally converted to get his first break of the match in game 11 to put himself in the position to serve for the set at 6-5.
It looked like Dimitrov would get the break immediately but a good challenge from Jaziri showed that a ball from his opponent had sailed long and the Tunisian secured the set with a slick passing shot.
Jaziri got a crucial break in the seventh game of the decider to inch ahead and despite seeing two match points slip away on Dimitrov’s serve at 5-3, the North African was unflustered as he wrapped up a memorable victory in two hours and 17 of fast-paced tennis.
“I hope it is a turning point for me. This win of course gives me some much-needed confidence,” said Jaziri, who next takes on Dutchman Robin Haase on Wednesday. “I’ve gone through a rough period, a year ago I was top-50, today I’m outside the top-100. I trusted my coach, even though my results were not going well, but I put my faith in him and I’m sure it will pay off.”
Jaziri’s coach, Christophe Freyss, who worked with Federer in his early junior days, was pleased with his student’s consistency throughout the match.
“For the confidence it’s huge, it’s amazing. Because he went through a tough period, all these weeks, were not bad but not that good too, and I wish this win will give him like the power and the confidence now to break and to come back in the real game,” said Freyss.
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