Experienced French campaigner Richard Gasquet will be next on the menu at the Qatar Open for rampaging Russian Andrey Rublev, winner of his last 20 matches at the ATP 500 level.
While this week’s event in the Gulf is a lesser 250, the distinction will mean little when the third-seeded Rublev swings into action in the second round after a bye.
2013 Doha winner Gasquet earned his spot on Monday, defeating Blaz Rola 6-4, 6-4 for a first victory of 2021.
No. 8 Rublev, whose win streak goes back to last September in Hamburg, has never played Gasquet, at 34 on the back end of his career.
“I have great memories playing here. It’s one of the best tournaments in the world,” the Frenchman said.
“It’s great for me to come back, I hope to play well. I know the next opponent will be tough – but I have nothing to lose and I’ll try my best to win.”
Gasquet overcame nine aces from Slovene Rola to post his opening win in 76 minutes in front of a handful of vetted and COVID-tested spectators.
Gasquet is making his first Doha appearance since 2018.
Surprise packet Aslan Karatsev, who reached the Australian Open semi-finals from a qualifying start last month, continued his run of form with a defeat of fellow wild card Mubarak Shannan Zayid 6-4, 6-0, taking barely an hour.
The Russian will now line up for the match of his life against top seed Dominic Thiem, who will be looking to recoup after exiting at the Open in the fourth round to Grigor Dimitrov.
Elsewhere, Kazakh Alexander Bublik set up a second-round contest with the winner from 2019 champion Roberto Bautista Agut and American Reilly Opelka.
Bublik scored a victory over Indian qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4, 6-2 in a bad-tempered match which ended without a handshake after Bublik popped over a successful underhand serve on match point.
American Taylor Fritz beat Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 7-6(5), 6-4 while Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili finally got a win afte five straight losses, defeating Australian John Millman 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.