DUBAI (AFP) - Malek Jaziri's fairytale run at the Dubai Championships came to an end on Friday (March 2) when he suffered a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Spain's Robert Bautista Agut in the semi-finals.
The first Arab player to get this far in the UAE since 2002, the Tunisian will rise into the top 100 in the next world rankings as a result of his performance this week, which included a first-round knockout of top seed Grigor Dimitrov, the world number four.
Third seed Bautista Agut will face French second seed Lucas Pouille in Saturday's final.
"It's a tough one. I was not ready today physically 100 per cent like I wanted," Jaziri said. "I gave everything on the court.
"I put a lot of energy to come back in the second set. At 4-1, I had a few opportunities but I went down a little bit physically.
"He made me play every ball. It's not easy to play someone like him. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes.
"I took a lot of confidence from this week, I need to build all the positive things, to continue with positive energy, a positive way to work." Jaziri threatened in the second set with a 4-1 lead before Bautista Agut hauled the number 117 back in, levelling for 4-4 and breaking for 5-4.
A game later, Jaziri was out of challenges in a match which ended on a debateable shot which was not allowed to be checked by the Hawkeye system.
"It was a very difficult match, I had to fight Malek, who played very well," Bautista Agut said. "I'm just glad to be in the final."
Pouille missed out on a straight-sets win and then had to beat a final-set rain delay to reach the final.
The French second seed stood within two points of victory in the second set against Filip Krajinovic, but eventually had to go the distance to oust the Serb 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5).
"It was really tough serving for the match," said Pouille. "Then came the rain (for an eight-minute pause late in the second set). When we came back out it was a very different match, very tight.
"I'm very, very happy to be in the final, I told myself to stay focussed. I tried to do my best when we came back out (for the second time).
"The tiebreaker was intense, every point was tough to win. But I think I played my best tennis in the second tiebreaker."
Pouille finally advanced on his third match point as Krajinovic returned wide. He posted 16 aces and broke twice.
The Frenchman was runner-up in Marseille last weekend having won the Montpellier title earlier this season.