The fourth seed saved three match points in a nail-biting second-set tie-break to defeat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 in the first round of the ATP 500 event.
Despite struggling for rhythm for much of the match, the World No. 10 upped his level late on to surge to victory in his first ATP Head2Head meeting with the Spanish World No. 43.
After a tight start Davidovich Fokina broke through late in the first set, converting the first break point of the match for 5-4 and then taking the set after Sinner sent a forehand long.
The match hinged on the second set tie-break. A previously under-par Sinner left it to the last possible moment to come out firing, reeling off five points in a row to recover from 6/3 down and force a third set.
The momentum shift was complete as the Italian kicked on in the decider. He secured a break for 4-2 before serving out for victory, letting out a roar of approval after converting his second match point. Sinner’s comeback was powered by consistent serving, the five-time ATP Tour titlist ending the match having won 78 per cent (46/59) of points behind his first delivery.
Sinner, who made the quarter-finals in Dubai in 2021, now plays former World No. 1 Andy Murray in the second round. Murray won their only previous meeting in straight sets in Stockholm in November.
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The Russian won the pair’s first meeting in the second round of January’s Australian Open, but the World No. 61 showed no fear in Dubai as he broke Karatsev four times on the way to a 7-5, 6-3 victory. McDonald now faces Filip Krajinovic in the second round after the Serbian completed a 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 comeback win over Malek Jaziri.