Denis Shapovalov hits a backhand slice with Dubai written on the ground behind him

Photo : Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

It was not the ending Denis Shapovalov was looking for this week at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. After winning the first set tie-break this Friday morning, Shapovalov was denied a place in the final in the desert, as Lloyd Harris completed a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6(6) comeback after 2 hours, 41 minutes of thrilling tennis. 

In a matchup of similar attacking styles, neither player faced a break point in the first set of the semi-final clash. While not as impenetrable as in his previous matches this week, Shapovalov still defended his serve well, and controlled his nerves better to take the first tie-break of the match, winning seven points to five.

With the first set going the No. 3 seed’s way, Shapovalov seemed to grow in confidence, maintaining his high level on his service games and finally generating the first break point of the match at 1-1 in the second set. Aiming to Harris’s forehand and drawing errors, Shapovalov was rewarded with a break to lead 3-2 as the South African sent a forehand into the net. He then held his nerve to consolidate and extend the lead at 4-2.

However, the qualifier was not done yet. After registering wins against reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem in the second round and, on Thursday, former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori, Harris gathered enough confidence to mount a comeback. Down 2-4 and two games away from being eliminated, the World No. 81 played well above his ranking and won four consecutive games to level the semi-final encounter at 6-7, 6-4.

In a mirror image of the first set, both players again held serve all the way to 6-6 in the decider without facing break points and producing spectacular rallies, and a total of 25 winners combined in the third set alone. Shapovalov’s efforts were not to be rewarded with a win, though, as Harris finally crossed the finish line on his second match point and advanced to the championship match in Dubai this weekend.

Despite the heartbreaker loss in this week’s ATP 500, the World No. 12 should be going into the Miami Open presented by Itau, an ATP Masters 1000, next week with confidence after having reached the semi-finals there in 2019. In that occasion, the then 19 year old defeated young rivals Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas before losing to eventual champion Roger Federer in straight sets. He was joined in the final four by countryman Felix Auger-Aliassime, who reached the semi-final round as a qualifier, losing to defending champion John Isner in two tie-breaks.