DUBAI: Italian teenager Jannik Sinner claimed a dramatic 6-4 3-6 7-5 victory over fourth seed and former champion Roberto Bautista Agut on Wednesday to move into the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The measure of Sinner's two-hour, 24-minute victory can be judged by the fact that his opponent has already reached two finals this year, in Montpellier and last week in Doha.
The gripping battle remained in the balance right up until the final ball was struck. The opening set went to Sinner, the No. 16 seed, after he broke to lead 5-4. Bautista Agut leveled the match by breaking to lead 5-3 in the second before serving out the set.
In the deciding set, Sinner held the advantage by breaking to lead 4-2 and although Bautista Agut brought it back to 4-4, a double fault at 6-5 gave Sinner a match point he took advantage of.
Sinner, who is making his Dubai debut this week, is still a new name to many but he has already set numerous records. He ended 2020 as the No. 1 teenager on the ATP Tour and he won his second ATP250 title earlier this season in Melbourne.
Sinner took the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals title in Milan and he also advanced to the 2020 French Open quarter-finals, the first debutant to do so since Rafael Nadal in 2005. He was also the youngest quarter-finalist there since Novak Djokovic in 2006.
“Today I tried to play aggressively, especially on the return game,” said Sinner, the youngest player in the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. “Some points I played a little bit slower to change the rhythm. I think that was the key.”
Second seed Andrey Rublev enjoyed a comfortable win over Taylor Fritz, taking just over an hour to win 6-3 6-1. While leading 3-1 in the second set, Rublev fended off six break points en route to the victory.
Third seed Denis Shapovalov, playing his 200th career match and again performing under the watchful eye of coach and former two-time Dubai finalist Mikhail Youzhny, also advanced to the quarter-finals with a 6-4 6-3 win over Hubert Hurkacz.
The 21-year-old Shapovalov produced a confident and aggressive performance to overcome an opponent he had lost to in their previous two meetings. He always held the edge in what was still a closely fought opening set, breaking to lead 2-1 and fighting off a break point to hold 5-3 lead before securing the set. The second set was more comfortable as Shapovalov again broke for 2-1, and although he failed to convert three more break points at 3-1, he broke serve once more in the final game.
He has been waiting for his game to catch fire this season after losing two matches in the ATP Cup, suffering a third-round defeat at the Australian Open and winning just one match last week in Doha. Shapovalov believes it is all coming together, but still issued a note of caution as he pursues his bid for a second career crown.
“I played some really good tennis,” Shapovalov said. “Obviously I have struggled against Hubert in the past and he is such a great player. He has got great weapons and is really tough to play against so I am really happy to get my first win against him. With the way I was playing, I was really feeling it in the important points.
“I really feel I have put in a lot of good work with Misha (Youzhny), especially after the Australian Open. We had a good training block so in that sense for sure I do feel confident in my game and how I am feeling physically. I am hoping to play as well tomorrow but it is never guaranteed.”
Jeremy Chardy battled his way to a 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4 win over eighth seed Karen Khachanov.
Chardy fired 19 aces but had to battle for 2 hours 35 minutes to edge past Khachanov, who failed to win the only break point of the opening set before claiming the tiebreak. The first break of the match did not come until late in the second set when Chardy took a 5-4 lead and served out to level the match, and just one break settled the deciding set.
In other matches, Kei Nishikori beat Aljaz Bedene 6-4 6-4, Aslan Karatsev defeated Lorenzo Sonego 3-6 6-3 6-4, Marton Fucsovics upset 11th seed Dusan Lajovic 6-1 4-6 6-4 and Lloyd Harris beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6(5) 6-4.
The quarter-finals will feature Shapovalov against Chardy, Karatsev facing Sinner, Rublev taking on Fucsovics, and Harris meeting Nishikori.