The 19-year-old Borna Coric opened proceedings on Day 2 in a first meeting with the towering 22-year-old Jiri Vesely, after making a huge impression here last year when he came through qualifying to beat Andy Murray on the way to the semis.
Dubai proved to be more than a flash in the pan, too, as Coric made the semis in Nice and then the third round at the French Open, plus a couple of quarter-finals later in the summer.
It all represented a rise from outside 100 to inside the top 50 in a single year, and he reached No36 following his first ATP final at the start of this year in Chennai.
Since then, he had won just one match in four events—until Dubai. And it took the young Croat less than an hour and a half to beat Vesely, 6-4, 6-4.
Now he faces a man 13 years his senior, the elegant No8 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, for the first time, with the prospect of the second seed Stan Wawrinka who, like Kohlschreiber, owns of a formidable one-handed backhand.
‘Stan the Man’, though, only just squeaked through to the second round after facing a fellow single-handed over-30 player, the always tricky Sergiy Stakhovsky. It was their fourth meeting, and their second in the space of a week: they met in the second round of Marseille. Never are their matches boring, and never one-sided: That Marseille match went to Wawrinka, 7-6(8) in the third set, after he saved two match points.
This would prove just as tight, just as unpredictable, as first one man then the other found and lost their form. Wawrinka looked certain to seal the first set when he broke for 5-3, only to spray errors and lose four games in a row and the set, 7-5—and he bust his racket in half in disgust.
The second set was a mirror image of the first, with Stakhovsky gaining the first break, only for Wawrinka to break back twice with a surge of 15 points from 18, and a love hold for the second set, 6-3.
It was nip and tuck in the third, with Stakhovsky serving first—and very well: he dropped only two points in his first five service games. Meanwhile Wawrinka looked the more wayward, until the 10th game, when the Swiss produced some glittering shots to break, and served out the match to love, 7-5. It was, in fact, his first match-win in Dubai in this his third visit—his first time here since 2008. Some excuse, perhaps, for his struggles with timing and placement.
He was only too aware of what a close shave it had been: “It’s good for my confidence but it was a tough first match. I was hesitating, always being behind, staying aggressive. And it’s tough to play, especially against Stakhovsky, who doesn’t give you too much rhythm. But it’s a great win for me. Not playing well, still winning, still fighting, still finding a way. I was playing a little bit better at the end, trying to be the aggressive player on the court. It’s good to have a chance to play better tomorrow.”
He will next play Franko Skugor, who beat Teymuraz Gabashvili, 6-2, 6-3.
And just as the day started with a star of the future in Coric, so the day ended with another who many tip for great things. Already, it is worth remembering, 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios has reached two Grand Slam quarter-finals, and he arrived at his first Dubai for his first meeting with the in-form Rotterdam champion Martin Klizan, as the youngest champion of 2016 so far. He won that first title days ago in Marseille, beating Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych, and Marin Cilic in the process, and without dropping serve all tournament.
It looked as though the older left-hander from Slovakia was determined to continue his successful streak, though, when he raced to a 3-0 lead, and sure enough, he held to love, 6-3, in just 28 minutes.
Both men wasted no time between points—and those points were fast, with big serving and aggressive one-two strikes peppering the court. Kyrgios got off to a lead in the second set, 2-0, only to be broken back, but he broke again for 5-3 and held to level the set, 6-3. He then broke at the start of the third, and broke again for 3-0. Klizan stole one break back and held for 2-3, but with his serve floundering, Kyrgios pressed the pace to break, and ran for the line, 6-2, in just an hour and a half.
Kyrgios now faces Mikhail Kukushkin, who beat Denis Istomin 7-5, 7-6(3). The young Aussie, though, was cautious: “I think this surface for him is probably his best. He likes to play on a fast surface; hits very flat. I know serving is going to be key. I need to definitely play a lot better than I played today.”
Elsewhere, the winner of two titles already this year, Roberto Bautista Agut, was again impressive in beating Simone Bolelli 6-2, 6-4, in 85 minutes. He will now take on Korean teenager Hyeon Chung.