Men's qualifying Day 2: Karatsev, Dzumhur eyeing top 100

  • Matt Trollope

Damir Dzumhur took the first step in his mission to return to the world’s top 100 after coming from behind to beat Emilio Gomez in the opening round of AO 2021 qualifying.

The seventh seed completed a 5-7 6-3 6-2 victory on Monday in Doha and will next face Germany’s Julian Lenz for a place in the final round.

Dzumhur joined No.1 seed Gregoire Barrere, second seed Hugo Dellien, and 32nd seed Blaz Rola on the winner’s list; Rola dismissed former top-10 player Ernests Gulbis in straight sets.

AO 2021 QUALIFYING: Day 2 results

Later on Monday, Dutchman Robin Haase won a dramatic match against Brazilian sixth seed Thiago Seyboth Wild 3-6 6-4 7-6(8).

"That was my first win in a Match Tiebreak - it was a first for me," said Haase, 33. "It's a great start to the year."

In-form Russian Aslan Karatsev accounted for American teenager Brandon Nakashima in three sets, while Australia’s Max Purcell – an AO 2020 doubles finalist – beat Frenchman Hugo Gaston, who upset Stan Wawrinka en route to the fourth round of Roland Garros in October.

Purcell was one of six Australian men’s winners on Day 2 in Doha. 

Dzumhur, who peaked at world No.23 in July 2018, has since slipped outside the top 100 after struggling with injuries in 2019 and a series of unfortunate circumstances in 2020.

That brought to an end an uninterrupted four-and-a-half-year stint in the top 100, a place he says he would like to return to in 2021.

"Both my fitness and my tennis coach agreed that this was one of the best preparations I had in last three or four years."
Damir Dzumhur

"That's definitely one of the first goals,” he told ausopen.com.

“I would say it's going to be a little bit easier after March, when the points will start dropping out, because I don't have any points to defend until I would say July.

“So I'm pretty much confident that at that point I can make a good run and I can gain some points which will bring me back to top 100.”

The 28-year-old Bosnian said that despite losing the opening set to Gomez – the son of 1990 Roland Garros champion Andres Gomez – he was still happy with his form and level, especially considering he had not played competitively since late October after opting to shut down his season early.

MEN'S QUALIFYING DRAW: view the second-round match-ups

“In August when we (resumed) I was just really unlucky with everything. What happened with the draw first round US Open, (drawing) Djokovic. With Roland Garros, what happened with me and the coach, that I was taken out of the draw and I wasn't able to play.

“And then (later) I got coronavirus, so I was out of the court another three weeks. And I had last two weeks (of the season) to play, but I just said, 2020 was quite bad, I don't wanna go deeper (laughter). 

"So I just stopped earlier, I took really good rest, and when I was really mentally ready to start practising, I did a good pre-season. Both my fitness and my tennis coach agreed that this was one of the best preparations I had in last three or four years.

“So mentally, physically, I think I'm definitely ready to go back to top 100. And I think my game is good enough to be there.”

Karatsev continues strong form

Another player seeking to occupy the same space is Karatsev, although unlike Dzumhur, he has never before cracked this elite bracket.

The 27-year-old enjoyed a stunning 2020 season during which he went 36-11 and improved his ranking by almost 200 places to its current mark of No.112.

He continued that impressive form on Monday against Nakashima, beating the highly-rated prospect 6-2 6-7(4) 6-2 with a neat, compact yet aggressive style reminiscent of top-15 player Roberto Bautista Agut.

"The first step (in 2021) is I want to be top 100, then top 50,” revealed No.3 seed Karatsev, who next plays Purcell.

“But I'm focusing more on how I'm playing. Of course (also) where I'm going to be (in the rankings), but (the focus is more) to improve my game, to be better every day.”

Two years ago, Karatsev made Minsk, Belarus his base and began working with a new coach, and in that time has steadily improved.

Yet it was the mental side of his game in 2020 where he made the biggest gains. 

“I'm not saying that we didn't work on the game, but most target was the mental part. Like how you behave, and how you play every point, how you prepare yourself for the next point. Stuff like that,” he explained.

"I had coaches in the past that were saying like, everything in your head. A lot of talking like, you have to improve your mental part. But it was just talking. It's easy to say, like OK, you have to improve your mental part. But the tough thing is how you can do it, how you manage it. 

“How you're going to improve it – this is the key.”