For the first time in 11 years there is an Arab player in the third round of a grand slam thanks to a heroic performance from Tunisian Malek Jaziri, who overcame a tough opponent and even tougher conditions to make it happen.
Jaziri, whose previous best showing at a major was reaching the second round at the 2011 US Open, and 2012 Roland Garros and Wimbledon, made the last 32 of a slam for the first time in his career on Wednesday by ousting Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
The world No75 made a terrible start to the clash, winning half the number of points that Roger-Vasselin won in the first set, and was visibly struggling with the heat and humidity.
But a visit from the doctor during the changeover at 1-2 in the second set swung things in Jaziri’s direction and he found a second gear against the Frenchman.
Roger-Vasselin later accused him of gamesmanship. When asked if he thought Jaziri was playing mind games during the match, the world No119 said: “Absolutely!”
Jaziri however explained that he never asked for a medical timeout and that both visits from the doctor were during changeovers, which didn’t interrupt the rhythm of play.
“I never asked for a medical timeout. Just a changeover, which changes nothing. It was only one minute,” he said.
As more and more people trickled into the stands at Court 6 as the match progressed, Jaziri drew energy from a group of chanting fans, who rallied behind him and carried him over the line.
He ultimately needed four match points to get the deed done and fell to the ground when he realised he had hit a new personal milestone. The win gave a new meaning to a tournament that is dubbed the ‘Happy Slam’.
“It’s the first time for me to make the third round so for sure I’m happy. I’m enjoying being here a lot,” said an ecstatic Jaziri, who turned 31 on the day he won his first round against Mikhail Kukushkin last Monday.
“The crowd is amazing here, it’s amazing to play in Australia, all the courts are full, the people are cheering, a great mix of nationalities in the crowd. I hope this dream continues.”
Jaziri was pleasantly surprised when the fans sang him happy birthday after his first round victory, and was even more surprised by the support he got against Roger-Vasselin on Wednesday.
He knows for a fact though that that will not be the case in his next clash against local hero Nick Kyrgios – an encounter which will most probably take place on the main stadium here at Melbourne Park.
“It will be the first time for me to play on a big court in Australia but I’ve played on big courts before at the US Open and elsewhere. First time for me to play on a big court in Australia and against a local… I think they will be cheering for me, but I hope maybe a little bit with me as well,” he said with a laugh.
Jaziri may have one or two tricks up his sleeve that could aid him against Kyrgios, who has beaten him before in the US Open qualifying rounds in 2013.
The Tunisian has an unlikely ally in his corner, Wimbledon legend Goran Ivanisevic, who has been informally helping Jaziri as a friend, in the absence of his injured actual charge, Marin Cilic.
Jaziri met Ivanisevic during the IPTL where they shared the same team, the UAE Royals, and they hit it off. The Croat nicknames him ‘Arabonsky’ and has been happy to give him tips and support him throughout the week in Melbourne.
“Goran is a legend and an idol too. He’s a very good guy, I like him so much so I appreciate everything he’s doing for me,” said Jaziri.
Another interesting fact? There is a woman called Philippa who was spotted supporting Jaziri in the crowd. She hosted him and his team during a Challenger in Dallas last year and he considers her a lucky charm, having made the final that week in Texas and he has now made his first major third round with her in the stands.
A birthday on court, a legend in his corner and a lucky charm who flew thousands of miles to support him… Looks like Jaziri has everything he needs to face Kyrgios on Friday.