Malek Jaziri’s Dubai dream rolls on.
Another hurdle presented itself on Thursday night, this time against a man 15 years his junior. This time for an unprecedented place in the tournament’s semi-finals.
Jaziri had reached the last eight of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships before, but never like this. On Tuesday, he upset world No 4 Grigor Dimitrov – his first victory against a top-10 player – then the following day outfought the much-favoured Robin Hasse.
Battling fatigue and a temporary loss of form, he then came through a seesaw three-setter with Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas. In triumphing 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, Jaziri added another layer of personal sparkle to a tournament missing its marquee names.
“Hopefully the nice story will continue,” he enthused, moments after his third win of an already memorable week. “Always a nice story starts from nothing. So hopefully start like this this week.”
It is some tale.
At 117th in the world, Jaziri is contesting a sixth successive main-draw appearance in Dubai on invite. Previously, he had been past the second round only once. Having turned pro in 2003, he is still searching for his first ATP Tour title.
Now the Tunisian stands two matches from it. On Thursday, when it seemed to be slipping from his grasp, like once 19-year-old Tsitsipas took the second set and had a break point in the very next game, Jaziri simply fired two aces to swing momentum back in his favour.
Throughout, Centre Court lapped it up. He was just happy to repay the faith.
“I enjoy all the moments on court,” Jaziri said. “It was really important for me to enjoy the game, to fight for every point, to feel all these people are watching my match, at my back, to cheer for me every point.
“I feel that moment. When I play, I feel them. They feel me, I feel them. We have that contact.
“Even today, they helped me a lot. When I was little bit down in the third set, when it was not easy, I feel them. They were with me. They push me. This give me more power today.”
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As he highlighted, he needed some assistance. The unlikely march through the event has taken a lot out of Jaziri, with late-night finishes draining. He concluded his match with Tsitsipas a little earlier, but still it stretched beyond the two-hour mark. He required a third match point to finally get over the line.
“It was a big fight today,” Jaziri said. “Was not that easy at all. I finished very late yesterday. I was in bed at 2.30am, so I didn’t sleep a lot. I tried to recover the best.
“I have less than 17 hours, or 16 hours, to prepare for today’s match. It was a tough moment. During the match I was up and down little bit today. But I’m happy to win.”
On Friday, he seeks a win against Roberto Bautista Agut.
The Spanish No 3 seed, a seven-time champion on tour, had earlier defeated talented Croatian youngster Borna Coric 7-6, 6-4. With a spot in the final up for grabs, Jaziri recognises the challenge ahead.
“He has lots of experience, has achieved good results for a long time, is a solid player,” he said.
“But I believe in myself that I can do it as well.”
The magnitude of an Arab excelling in Dubai is not lost on him either.
“It’s really important for me and all Arab players,” Jaziri said. “They can believe they can succeed in tennis, as well. It’s true maybe you don’t have a culture in tennis like other countries, but it’s growing up.
“Hopefully I will give positive energy. Hopefully I will be a locomotive for the next generation of kids.”
Meanwhile, French second seed Lucas Pouille held off the attacking game of Japan's Yuichi Sugita for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory, as he bids for a second title of the season.
The world No 15 fired a pair of aces – his 13th and 14th of the match – in the concluding game to see off the 42nd-ranked Sugita, having fallen a set behind.