Djokovic books quarterfinal spot in Dubai

Novak Djokovic has overcome resilient Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to book his spot at the quarterfinals.

Griekspoor, 26, showed in flits and starts some of his repertoire against the World No.1 before ultimately falling 6-2, 6-3.

Djokovic, celebrating a record 378 weeks at the top of the world rankings this week, joked afterwards that "the new generation is coming, but I’m not afraid".

The No.1 seed at Dubai’s ATP 500 tournament comfortably wrapped up the first set in a little more than half an hour, playing a variety of booming baseline forehands and cute, disguised cross-court slices.

At the start of the second, the big-hitting Serb needed just 12 minutes to race into a 3-0 lead, yet it would take him a further 16 minutes to secure the fourth as Griekspoor found his fight, saving five break points during an epic 14-deuce game.

With Djokovic holding serve to take the set to 5-0, Griekspoor – ranked a career-high World No39 – saved two match points to hold his own service game, before breaking his illustrious opponent, who double-faulted at the crucial moment. After the Dutchman held serve for 5-3, Djokovic quickly closed out the match.  

"It’s been a great evening for me tonight,” Djokovic said. “Yesterday [against Tomas Machac] I really had to work hard to get a win. Tonight, I think right from the blocks, from the beginning I was sharp. I played better quality tennis than I did last night. Maybe the last three, four games weren’t the best, to close the match, but I managed to find a good serve in the end. I’m very pleased with the way I felt on the court.”

Earlier in the day, defending champion Andrey Rublev produced an escape act worthy of the magician at the previous night’s Players’ Party. The Olympic gold medallist, seeded No.2 here this week, was staring at five match points as Spanish opponent Alejandro Davidovich Fokina led by a set and 6-1 in the tiebreaker. Yet as his opponent capitulated, Rublev rallied, taking the second-set tiebreak 8-6 and winning a third-set tiebreak 7-3 to secure safe passage into the quarterfinals and continue his quest to become the first back-to-back Dubai champion since Roger Federer in 2015. 

Such was Davidovich Fokina’s frustration, he smashed his own racquet out of frustration at the end of the second set and even though he recovered his composure, from that moment on it always looked like Rublev had the upper hand – even if he did not quite believe it himself. 

“These matches, when it's over, and somehow you win them, it's always special,” said Rublev, who will face Botic van de Zandschulp next. “I have no words to describe. I feel lucky because I almost lost and somehow I won. I don't even have any emotions now because, in my head, the match was done. The beginning wasn’t good. [Davidovich Fokina] started really well, hitting hard, and I didn’t have many options. Then I started to be positive and came back in the crazy tiebreak from 6-1. I’ve never done it before in my life before, so I’m really happy.”

Meanwhile, such a turnaround was out of reach of No.4 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who crashed out in straight sets to Italian Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (4), 6-4. Sonego, ranked World No.67, will face Alexander Zverev in the last-eight after the No.7 seed saw off Australian qualifier Christopher O’Connell in straight sets. 

Closing out another action-packed day the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Daniil Medvedev made light work of Alexander Bublik, winning 6-4, 6-2 and maintaining the possibility of winning three tournaments in three weeks following his recent wins in Rotterdam and Qatar. “I feel fresher this week than I did in Doha,” the No.3 said ominously. 

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