Pouille Books Dubai Final Spot & Shot At Top 10
Frenchman has an opportunity to break into Top 10 for the first time
Lucas Pouille reached his third final in four ATP World Tour tournaments with victory on a wet Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. The in-form Frenchman, who is now 11-2 since an Australian Open first-round exit (l. to Bemelmans) in January, hit 16 aces to knock out seventh-seeded Serbian Filip Krajinovic 6-3, 6-7(4), 7-6(4) in two hours and 19 minutes.
The 24-year-old Pouille now has an opportunity to break into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings (at No. 10) for the first time. He is currently two spots off his career-high of No. 13 in the ATP Rankings (8 May 2017). Last month, he captured the Open Sud de France title (d. Gasquet) and five days ago lost to Karen Khachanov in the Open 13 Provence final.
"Playing to reach the Top 10 for the first time, of course, it's something great," said Pouille. "But obviously, if I play like this every week of the year [and] if I'm focused like this and I'm mentally as strong as I am now, I'm sure one week or another I will be in the Top 10."
With a 5-3 record in ATP World Tour finals, including one 500-level trophy at the 2017 Erste Bank Open 500 in Vienna (d. Tsonga), he will now prepare to challenge third-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut on Saturday. Pouille trails Bautista Agut 1-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, but won their most recent match in the 2016 US Open third round.
In a match suspended due to rain on three occasions, Pouille won 48 of his 56 first-service points (86 per cent) and broke Krajinovic’s serve when leading 3-2 in the first set, and once more at 2-2 in the second set. The Frenchman twice came within two points of victory, when serving for the match at 5-4 (30/30 and Deuce), but was broken and rain once again began to fall.
"I played much better [in the] first and second sets, [at] 6-3, 5-3," said Pouille. "I think I made a mistake to continue playing when it was raining... But he deserved to win the second set. He put his returns into the court [and] he was aggressive. Then, in the third [set], it was very, very close. I'm just very happy I get through this one."
Upon the resumption of play, Krajinovic saved one break point at 5-5, 30/40, prior to moving to a 3/1 lead in the second set tie-break. With no opportunities to break serve in the third set, Pouille managed to break clear from 2/2 in the deciding tie-break with three straight points. It proved to be enough, one week on from his 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4 victory over Krajinovic in the Marseille quarter-finals.
"I had more energy today [than in Marseille], so I was very confident for this," said Pouille. "I started very well, was playing great, serving well, returning well. I was doing everything good. [But] every match is tough to win. I was just trying to fight until the end and try to put more intensity in the [final] tie-break because I think every point was great, very intense. I'm just very, very happy [and] excited for tomorrow, as well."
Later in the day, Bautista Agut booked a place in his 14th ATP World Tour final (7-6 record) with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri in 79 minutes. Bautista Agut recovered from a 1-4 deficit in the second set to advance to his first ATP World Tour 500 level final.
"I'm in the first final in a 500 event [and] I think I played a great match," said Bautista Agut. "He was playing unbelievable at the beginning of the second set, playing very fast [and he played] some good volleys."
When asked about Pouille, the Spaniard said, "He's been having very good results this last month. He [came through] very tough moments today in the semi-finals. I think he will be a tough opponent tomorrow."
Did You Know?
Jaziri was looking to become the first Arabic player to reach the final in Dubai since Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui in 2002 (l. Santoro).