On the same day that the Dubai Duty Free Championships saw its first wild-card finalist since 1997, the tournament also welcomed a qualifier into its title match for the very first time.
“I don’t have many words right now. I am super happy with that win,” Harris said after the match. “Being a set and 2-4 down is mentally and physically a little bit troublesome for me, but I found my best tennis from there. I am just extremely happy with the result right now.”
Harris' dream week in Dubai—he's not the only one, of course—includes a straight-set second-round win over top seed Dominic Thiem, followed by wins over 33rd-ranked Filip Krajinovic and former world No. 4 Kei Nishikori.
“This is what I am working for. This is what I have been putting in the hard yards for,” Harris said. “I have been waiting for some results like this. To have so many of them in one week is a fantastic feeling. I have got one more match to go.”
At No. 81, Harris is the highest ranked South African, nine spots ahead of his idol and former world No. 5 Kevin Anderson. The two-time Grand Slam finalist had knee surgery at the end of the 2019 season and has not played since 2019 Wimbledon.
“At the time I was growing up, from a reasonable age when I was watching tennis, there was no one playing [from South Africa],” Harris said. “Kevin was the first one to come along again and it has been unbelievable to see his rise up the ranks.”
The other surprise finalist is Karatsev, who hasn't let up after a shocking semifinal run at the Australian Open. In Dubai, he ended fellow Russian Andrey Rublev’s astonishing 23-match win streak at ATP 500-level tournaments with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 triumph.
Throughout the match, the 27-year-old had second-seeded Rublev’s back against the wall, on the baseline, but a decider was needed. Karatsev went up two breaks in the third set, and while Rublev recovered once, he couldn't secure the second down 5-4.
With clutch serving, Karatsev reached his first ATP-level final; Harris is into his second (0-1 in finals).
“It was a really tight match [against a] tough opponent,” Karatsev said. “It was an unbelievable performance [from Andrey]. He didn’t lose a match at an ATP 500 in [one year]. Everything was decided in one or two points, I feel happy.”
Ranked No. 112 at the beginning of the season, Karatsev could move into the Top 30 for the first time in his career if he goes all the way this week.
Last month, as an unrecognized qualifier, Karatsev took Melbourne by storm when he became the first player in the Open Era to reach the semifinals in his Grand Slam main-draw debut. He's shed the qualifier distinction in Dubai, though to win his first tour title, he'll have to end another qualifier's Cinderella run along the way.