Former champion and 2023 runner-up Andry Rublev psyched himself up for a fightback on Monday to earn a second-round spot at the ATP Dubai tournament over Chinese threat Zhang Zhizhen 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4.

The second seed shot lost the final a year ago to Daniil Medvedev, said he took inspiration from the mainly expat crowd to turn the match around after losing the first set.

 “I was mentally down after the first set,” the ATP No. 5 said. “But I heard them cheering me. I told myself I needed to try and fight and win.

Rublev has never gone out before the quarter-finals here in four previous appearances.

Zhang, who ended with 17 aces to Rublev’s 18, scored the biggest win of his career at the US Open in September as he put out No. 5 Casper Ruud.

He was playing the Dubai main draw for the first time after losing in 2020 and 2023. 

Rublev called chilly night conditions in the desert “super tough.”

“I’m so happy I was able to come back. He was playing amazing and not missing on serve at all. He was hitting about 220 (kph) and it was so tough to do anything with the return.

“I’m happy I was able to be there and take my chances when I could.

“Most players (he faces) have nothing to lose. He was playing completely free, hitting hard – it’s not easy to face someone like that.”