ATP 500 Series Dubai Duty Free Semi-Finals Preview

Tennis player stands with racquet in hand

We preview this week's Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Semi-Finals set to take place on 2 March. 

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Roberto Bautista-Agut 1/5
Malek Jaziri 31/10
This is a semi-final that doesn’t say too much about the so-called ‘next gen’. 29 year-old Roberto Bautista-Agut has defied my expectations and finally delivered post Aussie Open. The Spaniard has been a consistent performer on the tour over the last few seasons, with victory in Auckland already this season. He went through an uncharacteristic post Melbourne slump that never filled me with confidence this week. But an excellent performance against the talented Borna Coric in the last round seems to indicate that he has turned a corner with his game. But the 29-year old is sure to be the sure-fire underdog as he meet s a man making waves this week: Malek Jariri.

The 34-year old Tunisian has had a sensational wildcard appearance this week, unbelievably knocking out Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round. He then went on to knock out veteran Robin Haase and young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas, under visible physical duress at times in both matches. The Tunisian has become the first Arab player since Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui in 2002 to make it to the semi-finals here. This performance has really come out of the blue for a man attending his first ATP 500 Series semi-final. The Challenge Tour aficionado certainly has one thing: a massive forehand. Like many players toiling in the lower rungs of the tour, he relies on a huge forehand that has thus far worked wonders for the Tunisian. 

Bautista-Agut leads the head-to-head 1-0, although that is fairly negligible considering it was in a 2009 futures event. Clearly Bautista-Agut is the favourite, but his backhand side has looked particularly vulnerable, and I have no doubt that Jaziri will target that side obsessively. Furthermore, the fanatical crowd support for Jaziri is quite unlike your general 500 Series event. There may be some value in the Tunisian here. 

Lucas Pouille 6/10
Filip Krajinovic 12/10
Lucas Pouille has avoided the same pitfalls as Dimitrov, which is really incredible when you consider the draw that he has compared to that of the Bulgarian. Pouille had former top 10 player Ernst Gulbis in the first round before an extremely treacherous encounter with recent tour winner Khachanov. And then he had to come back from a set down to take down the indefatigable Yuichi Sugita in the quarter-finals. Pouille has already amassed a 2018 record of 10-3, including that remarkable victory in Marseille. Pouille is currently one of the dark horse players on tour that seems to be growing outside of the mega spotlight that the likes of Dimitrov and Zverev can’t avoid. 

The last four months in the life of Serbian Number 2 Filip Krajinovic have been unbelievable. Perhaps emerging out of the lengthy shadow cast by compatriot Novak Djokovic, Krajinovic has started to realize some of his massive potential, culminating in that awe-inspiring run to the Paris Masters Final last year- he lost to American Jack Sock. Krajinovic had enjoyed an extremely profitable Challenge Tour season, winning multiple titles that put him into the position to launch his career in Paris. His 2018 season recently took shape with a quarter-final appearance in Marseille, where he picked up impressive victories over Joao Sousa and Gilles Simon. And who was his conqueror in Marseille? Lucas Pouille.

The head-to-head between the two players reads 1-1, with the Serb winning an encounter way back in 2013. But Krajinovic was lost narrowly in against Pouille against a very partisan French crowd, and the way he dominated his quarterfinal seems to suggest that the Serb could produce another upset in a tournament of surprises. 

To Win Outright- Bautista-Agut 1/1, Krajinovic 9/2, Jaziri 10/1, Lucas Pouille 15/8
Verdict: I think that Krajinovic looks like amazing value in the wake of that devastating quarterfinal performance, especially when you look at how gruelling Pouille’s path has been. 

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.net

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