When Grigor Dimitrov moved into a one-set lead, few inside the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium would have envisaged anything other than a first-round victory for the tournament top seed.
Dimitrov, the world No 4, arrived at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as the only elite-level player in the field. He was in good form having recently reached Rotterdam Open final, and while he struggled with illness in that defeat to Roger Federer, he insisted upon arrival in Dubai that he was fit, firing and raring to go.
Over the net from the ATP Finals champion was a player who had won one match from four ATP Tour tournaments played this season. He had not fared any better when he dropped down a level either, winning a solitary match from two Challenger events.
So when Dimitrov took that one-set lead against Malek Jaziri, all signs pointed to a routine win for the Bulgarian. Jaziri has fallen to many Dubai top seeds in the past, including Federer, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic.
But not this time.
After Dimitrov had claimed the first set 6-4 with a break of serve in the final game, Jaziri responded in kind in the second, breaking in the 11th game before serving out the set for 7-5.
The 3,000-strong crowd were now fully invested in this contest, with many throwing their impassioned support behind Jaziri. The world No 117 repaid that support with a break to love in the seventh game of the final set, and that, essentially, was that.
Jaziri had two chances on Dimitrov’s serve to close out the match, and he had to fend off a break point of his own, but ultimately he held his nerve to clinch the set 6-4, send the crowd into raptures, and claim a famous victory.
“Great feeling today, first of all, to win my first top five,” the 34-year-old Tunisian said. “I am really happy for that. I tried to fight every point since the beginning. It was so tight. All the time I was longer on the court, I was playing better, feeling more comfortable.”
Jaziri will not have much time to revel in his milestone victory. He faces Dutchman Robin Haase in the second round on Wednesday, although their match is last on Centre Court.
“I will try to relax a little bit, enjoy dinner with my team, enjoy this win,” Jaziri said. “That’s most important. It’s been a long time I didn’t win lot of matches. This is a good win for me.
“After that I will start to think about Robin. He is good player, so it will be tough match.”
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For Dimitrov, the defeat will be tough to take. After all, he was the star attraction in Dubai this week and was clear favourite to, at the very least, reach the final.
However, the 26-year-old Bulgarian was magnanimous in defeat, preferring to praise the performance of Jaziri instead of getting too down on himself.
“It is what it is. You have days like this that you can’t really do much else,” he said. “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 OK for a little bit, but then I lost my rhythm again.
“All the credit to Malek. He was strong throughout the whole match.”
Defeat in the first round of an outdoor hard court event is hardly the best preparation for the upcoming Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells, but Dimitrov insisted the best way to respond will be to focus on the next challenge.
“The best thing is you have another match in about a week or two’s time. I guess that’s the positive side,” he said.
“I’m going to keep going with the same attitude. It’s not easy when you lose. There’s no point for me to get too down on myself.
“I think I had a good start to the season. Now is the time to push hard through. I don’t shy away. I feel like I’m going to be ready.”