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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, March 19, 2021

Lloyd Harris

Down a set and a break, Lloyd Harris rallied edging Denis Shapovalov 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(6) to make history as the first qualifier to reach the Dubai final.

Photo credit: Francois Nel/Getty

Unseeded. Unheralded. Unbeaten.

Playing his seventh match in seven days, a driven Lloyd Harris continued his wondrous ride through the Dubai draw with a stirring comeback.

More: Musetti Magic Continues in Acapulco

Down a set and 2-4, Harris reeled off five straight games edging Denis Shapovalov 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(6) to make history as the first qualifier to reach the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final.

The 81st-ranked South African has turned his time in the desert into warrior week.

Harris, who was winless vs. Top 20 opponents entering March, scored his third Top 20 victory in the last two weeks. He defeated Stan Wawrinka in Doha, shocked US Open champion Dominic Thiem in his Dubai opener, dispatched former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals and outlasted world No. 12 Shapovalov in their first meeting today.

It's a gut-wrenching loss for Shapovalov, who was two holds away from a straight-sets victory but dropped serve twice, including double-faulting twice in succession to donate the second set and give Harris new life. Former Stockholm champion Shapovalov fell to 1-10 in career ATP semifinals having received a walkover in the 2019 Rolex Paris Masters semifinal.

The third-seeded Shapovalov shot himself in the foot with eight double faults, but credit Harris for superior serving at crunch time. Harris pumped 12 aces against two double faults and won three of his final four service games at love.

It& continues an inspired run for the lanky South African, who earned his first career ATP main-draw win in 2018.

It's not hyperbole to view his Dubai rise as a transformative tournament for Harris, who has emerged as a feel-good story of 2021. How good can Harris be? Former world No. 4 Nishikori says Harris has Top 10 potential.

"It is a matter of adapting to the main stage, it's definitely very different," Harris said. "I think the more you grow in confidence and belief, it just allows you to go out on court against these top guys and kind of believe that you can also beat them.

"I think a few wins in the last couple of days has really bolstetered this frame of mine in my head that I can go out and play with anyone. That I'm just as good as the top guys on the tour."

Harris advanced to his second career final where he will face either fellow breakout standout Aslan Karatsev or 500 king Andrey Rublev, who carried a 23-match winning streak in 500-level matches into today's second semifinal.
Fourteen months ago, Harris played through qualifying to reach his first Tour-level final in Adelaide where he lost to Rublev.
Down 3-4 Harris took a medical timeout for tightness in his right leg. The trainer came onto court and taped up Harris' right thigh. Following a near seven-minute time-out play resumed and Harris regained his rhythm holding at love to even after eight games.

From love-30 down Harris held to force the tie beaker.  The lanky South African drew Shapovalov forward with a slice then banged a clean two-handed pass opening the breaker with the min-break. The Canadian fired a series of forcing forehands to regain the mini break on the third point.

Backpedaling, Shapovalov bungled a smash wide to give Harris the mini break and a 5-3 lead. With the breaker on his racquet, Harris couldn't close. The South African qualifier over-hit a diagonal forehand to fall to 5-5. Harris sprayed a crosscourt forehand wide spinning his Yonex racquet in frustration at handing the Canadian a set point on his serve.

Shapovalov sealed the set with his fail-safe play curling the slider serve wide and hammering the forehand snatching a one-set lead after 59 minutes.

A series of Shapovalov returns that danced near the baseline provoked errors earning the Canadian triple break point in the third game of set two. Harris erased the first two and dodged the third when Shapovalov, with a good look at a backhand pass, netted it. A gritty Harris dug in denying all three break points holding for 2-1.

Tennis Express

Eighty-two minutes into the match, the South African blinked putting a forehand into net to hand the third seed the first break in the fifth game.

The left-hander, who had not dropped serve or a set in the entire tournament to that point, was  a couple of holds from a straight-sets win to book his spot on the final. Out of nowhere, Shapovalov sputtered in his sloppiest game of the match nudging a routine volley into net and scattering his fifth double fault to give back the break in the eighth game.

The 24-year-old Harris tore through eight of nine points suddenly shifting the narrative from a 2-4 deficit to a 5-4 lead.

Shapovalov needed to steady the ship, but pressure wreaked a wave of havoc. Shapovalov, who began catching stray tosses, spit up successive double faults to gift a second straight break and the set.

How would Harris' cranky right leg hold up in the decider? And could Shapovalov's volatile serve withstand the stress of a third set?

World No. 81 Harris held for his fifth straight game to start the final set.

Both men guarded serve throughout the set. Serving at 30-15, Shapovalov stepped in to end a crackling 33-shot rally lasering a forehand winner down the line. That epic exchange helped him even the set after 10 games.

Harris hammered his 10th ace—his third love hold of the set—for 6-5.  

Semifinal excitement escalated into the tie breaker. Two-and-a-half hours into the match, Shapovalov rocketed a backhand pass then narrowly missed a lightning crosscourt forehand to fall behind 2-3 in the breaker.

Shapovalov scorched a heavy backhand to drive Harris back then drilled a diagonal forehand for 4-3. Harris drove his 11th ace and whipped a serve winner wide for 5-4.

Seeing Shapovalov stand wide of the center stripe on serve, Harris read the wide serve and fired a first-rate forehand return down the line for match point.

Nerves spiked as Harris missed a first serve then sailed a backhand down the line as the pair switched sides deadlocked 6-6. Dismissing disappointment, Harris rocketed his 12th ace for a second match point.

The qualifier closed a two hour, 41-minute battle when replay showed Shapovalov's final drive down the line missed the sideline. Harris has spent about 11 hours, 5 minutes on court this week with his gimpy right leg showing the wear-and-tear of match play, but will be thrilled to contest the biggest final of his career tomorrow and keep this wild, winning ride rolling.


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