Qualifier Harris makes history in Dubai, reaches career-high ranking

South Africa's Lloyd Harris became the first qualifier ever to reach the final of the ATP event in Dubai when he beat Canada's Denis Shapovalov in a third-set tiebreak on Friday

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How about this for a run of form. First Lloyd Harris qualifies for the main draw; then he stuns top seed Dominic Thiem, upsets 14th seed Filip Krajinovic, outlasts former US Open champion Kei Nishokori, and then on Friday, for the coup de grace, he edges out in-form Denis Shapovalov to make his own spot of history.

In his seventh match in seven days, the 24-year-old world No 81 came from a set and 4-2 down to beat third seed Shapovalov 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 and reach his second career final. He’s the first man ever to come through qualifying and reach the final in Dubai, an event which was first played in 1993.

Career-high ranking

The victory also moves him up to just outside the world’s top 50, an especially fine achievement given the change to a two-year ranking system because of the Coronavirus pandemic and he could just go higher after tournament favourite Andrey Rublev lost for the first time in 24 matches at ATP 500 level when he was beaten 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 by fellow Russian Aslan Karatsev, a semi-finalist at the Australian Open.

“It’s obviously a great feeling,” Harris said. “With the way the rankings have been in the pandemic, it’s been very difficult for me to move. Even at the end of last year, I felt like I was playing well but I was moving just one or two spots. It has been pretty difficult but with so many points coming from a big result like this, I’m just happy to be climbing up to hopefully what I deserve. Top 50 is a stepping stone, my career high was 72, so I’m very pleased.”

It seemed as if Harris was on his way out when Shapovalov pulled ahead 4-2 in the second set, having taken the first on the tiebreak. But the South African fought his way back and then snatched the deciding tiebreak 8-6 to clinch victory.

“It literally came down to one or two points,” Harris said. “I was fighting super-hard. It was just one heck of a battle.”

Denis Shapovalov

One last push

In the final, Harris will meet Karatsev, who built on his run to the last four in Melbourne with a battling victory over Rublev, ending his fellow Russian’s hopes of breaking Roger Federer’s record of 28 straight ATP 500 wins. It will be Karatsev’s first ATP Tour final and the 25-year-old will climb to at least No 33 in the rankings, having begun 2021 ranked 112.

Harris admitted he was feeling the effects of his efforts throughout the week but would give it his all in the final.

“I just need to recover a bit, take this bit in a bit and get ready for the final,” he said. “It’s been a lot of matches, I’m not going to lie but if you’re playing a final, you find some energy.”

“This week I’ve really found my game, found the way I want to be playing. But there’s still a lot to improve still.”

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