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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, March 2, 2018

Hard-court matches are hard-core clashes when Lucas Pouille and Filip Krajinovic face off.

Squaring off for the second time in as many weeks, the pair collaborated on another pulsating thriller today.

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In a tense test, Pouille failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, but kept calm and fought his way into the Dubai final with a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) triumph.

In a topsy-turvy match that featured a couple of rain delays, Pouille pounded 16 aces and saved two of three break points in raising his 2018 record to 11-3.

Frustrated by his inability to serve it out in two, Pouille stewed during the first eight-minute rain delay, but kept his composure after a second rain delay of a half hour.

"It was really tough serving for the match then came the rain," Pouille told the media in Dubai. "When we came back out it was a very different match, very tight. I'm very, very happy to be in the final, I told myself to stay focused. I tried to do my best when we came back out (for the second time).

"The tie breaker was intense, every point was tough to win. But I think I played my best tennis in the second tie breaker."

Two of Pouille's 11 wins have come over Krajinovic in big battles, including a 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4 victory in the Marseille quarterfinals last week.

"He's a very good player," Pouille said of Krajinovic. "I mean, he made the final in Bercy last year at the end of the season. It was not so long ago. I think, yeah, he going to improve his ranking. I think he's going to become top 20 very soon."

The second-seeded Pouille advanced to his third final of the season, including his second straight title match.

Aiming for his sixth career title, Pouille will face Roberto Bautista Agut in tomorrow's final.

Bautista Agut fought off four of five break points, including saving three break points in the final game, ending the inspired run of 117th-ranked Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri, 6-3, 6-4, in 80 minutes.

The third-seeded Bautista Agut, who opened the year defeating Juan Martin del Potro to win the Auckland crown, and Pouille are both playing for their second titles of the season. Pouille won Montpellier last month prior to celebrating his 24th birthday.

It's been a wild week for Pouille, who avenged his loss to Karen Khachanov in the Marseille final on Sunday beating the powerful Russian in the Dubai second round. Pouille rallied past Yuichi Sugita, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals to set up another showdown with Krajinovic.

All three of their career meetings, including a 2013 Challenger encounter, have gone three sets; four of the nine sets they've played have been decided in tie breaks.

Serving for the final, Pouille was two points from victory at 5-4, 30-love in the second set, but could not close. Krajinovic broke back in the 10th game then the pair sat as spitting showers forced a brief delay.

Krajinovic surged through a three-game run for 6-5.

The seventh-seeded Serbian deployed some timely attacking tennis to take the second-set tie break and force the decider.

Following about a half-hour rain delay in the final set, play resumed with Krajinovic serving at 3-4. Shaking off the delay, the Serbian slid a forehand down the line completing a love hold in the eighth game.

The second-seeded Frenchman was again two points from the final at 5-4 when Krajinovic answered with a bold backhand volley into the corner and his sixth ace wide.

Two hours, four minutes into the match the pair collaborated on a pulsating rally with Pouille driving a forehand behind his opponent then exhorting fans to make more noise as he grabbed game point.

The world No. 15 fought through a tense three-deuce game churning to a 6-5 lead.

The tie break began with a crash. Krajinovic tripped on his own feet hitting a slice backhand approach and tumbled to the court.

Two points later, the Serbian hit his fourth double fault handing Pouille the mini-break and 2-1 lead. Pouille lured Krajinovic forward with a low, slow slice then spun a backhand pass down the line for 4-2.

Quick off the mark, Pouille burst up to a half volley short in the court and knifed a backhand pass down the line for a second straight mini break and 5-2 lead.

A flying forehand down the line brought the Frenchman to triple match points after two hours, 17 minutes.

Still, Krajinovic wasn't done yet fighting off the first two match points.

On a second serve, a bold Pouille caught the service line with a second serve fighting through his second win over Krajinovic in two weeks and first Dubai final.

The 29-year-old Bautista Agut has won two of their three meetings, but Pouille pulled out a five-set victory in their most recent encounter at the 2016 US Open.


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