DUBAI: Malek Jaziri celebrated the 100th Tour level victory of his career on Sunday to advance into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
But his jubilation was muted, as his victory came after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was forced to retire with a right arm injury as the match was intriguingly poised at 3-3 in the opening set.
“I’m sad to win this way because I have a lot of respect for him and he's a really nice guy and hopefully he'll recover as soon as possible,” said Jaziri.
“It’s lots of very good feelings to be back here at this high level and to compete. I keep believing that I can do it and hopefully the people who believe in me, I can give them a lot of joy.”
“I’m lucky today to be playing at this level. I’m happy to be here to enjoy these moments,” he added.
“The most important thing for me is my attitude, keeping the way I play very aggressive. I have improved a lot. My forehand has improved, I’ve changed my serve, my slice has improved. I’m putting a lot of things together and hopefully it will pay off.”
Tsonga has barely been able to compete for over a year due to a back injury.
After winning one match in the Davis Cup Final in November 2019, in 2020 he was beaten in the only two matches he played, and his match in Dubai against Jaziri was just his third of 2021 and followed a loss in Montpellier and his first win in over a year against Feliciano Lopez in Marseille last week.
“We are delighted that Malek Jaziri has earned such an impressive career milestone here in Dubai, but saddened that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has suffered yet another injury,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.
“We wish him a speedy recovery and return to the ATP Tour.”
Tournament wild card Aslan Karatsev edged past Egor Gerasimov 6-4 6-4, fighting off two break points as he served for victory at 5-4. The Russian recently caused a sensation at the Australian Open where he became the first player in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals upon his Grand Slam main draw debut.
He was also the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since Vladimir Voltchkov at Wimbledon in 2000, and at 114 he was the lowest-ranked Grand Slam semi-finalist since number 125gth ranked Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001.
And last week he won the first doubles title of his career with partner Andrey Rublev in Doha.
Kei Nishikori was the first player into the second round after overcoming the 2.11 meter-tall Reilly Opelka 3-6 6-3 6-4 to set up a second round meeting with fifth seed David Goffin.
Nishikori, a former world number four, has suffered several career setbacks due to illness and injury. After losing in the third round of the US Open in August 2019, he underwent elbow surgery for a second time and then in 2020 after a year out of the game he played just four events, winning two matches.
“I played a very solid match today,” said Nishikori.
“I tried to focus on my first service game because I knew there wouldn’t be many chances on my return game. I tried to make my first serve and I think I did quite enough. I surprised myself how I returned well on break points.”
There were also wins Jeremy Chardy who overcame Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3 3-6 6-4, Alexander Bublik who defeated Yoshihito Nishioka 6-4 7-6(4), and in a meeting between two tournament wild cards Alexei Popyrin beat Dennis Novak 7-6(3) 7-5.