Miami Open 2015: Djokovic dampens Ferrer birthday spirit to reach semis

Novak Djokovic beats David Ferrer 7-5 7-5 to reach the semi-finals of the Miami Masters, where he will face John Isner

World No7 David Ferrer probably had little expectation of celebrating his 33rd birthday with a victory over the four-time and defending Miami champion Novak Djokovic.

But that would not stop the resilient, big-hearted Spaniard from fighting his socks off in trying.

This was the 19th meeting between Ferrer and Djokovic, and the birthday-boy had only won five of their previous meetings, and none since an exhausted Djokovic went down to the Spaniard at the 2011 World Tour Finals.

But Djokovic knew he would have a fight on his hands: with Ferrer, it is never anything else, and his 22-2 win-loss record this year, comprising three titles, were testament to his form. And two of those titles entailed wins over top-10 players in the finals: Tomas Berdych in Doha and Kei Nishikori in Acapulco.

What’s more, in Miami, where Djokovic had yet to play a seed in reaching the quarters, Ferrer had already beaten No26 Lukas Rosol and No12 Gilles Simon, and had not dropped a set in the tournament.

But Miami is a happy hunting ground for Djokovic, and after winning the Indian Wells title, he was in pursuit a rare and difficult first: completing the Indian Wells-Miami double-header on three separate occasions.

It was Ferrer who raced away at the start, taking a 4-1 lead with his hustling, attacking baseline game, tempered with occasional finishes at the net. But already, Ferrer’s serve was not performing at its usual reliable level, and Djokovic’s return game, one of the most testing in tennis, punished a growing number of second serves.

As the rallies grew longer, Djokovic built his formidable rhythm, running Ferrer ragged, throwing in the odd drop shot, and forcing a sequence of Ferrer forehands just long. In a gruelling 10-minute game, the Serb got the break back and broke the sweat-drenched Ferrer to leave himself serving for the set, 7-5.

In the second set, it was Djokovic who got the early break, and Ferrer continued to battle to hold his serve. It looked done and dusted when Djokovic served for the set at 5-4 and worked a match-point, but still Ferrer scurried, and a couple of errors from the Djokovic rally earned Ferrer a break-back point and the Spaniard levelled at 5-5.

Ferrer looked exhausted, his chest heaving with effort. Had he been serving first in the set, had he broken to take a 6-5 lead instead of to level at 5-5, and thus had a change of ends to recover his breath, perhaps he would have held onto his own serve for the set… but timing can make all the difference, and a weary service game handed Djokovic the decisive break back, and the defending champion made no mistake in holding for the match, 7-5.

Djokovic recognised what a fight it had been: “I had to fight for everything that I got tonight because he wasn’t going to give it to me. I knew that coming onto the court. I know that he’s a great competitor, that he grinds a lot, runs and makes you play an extra shot. That’s why he’s been a top-10 player for so many year and he’s tough to beat.”

Ferrer acknowledged: “In the important moments, [he] played good. End of the first set, he was very good with his shots. In the second, he was better than me.”

At least he could now make the most of his birthday celebration.

Djokovic will face No24 John Isner in the semis. The American has found a streak of form in Miami in an otherwise slow season. He beat first the No9 seed Grigor Dimitrov and then the No5 seed Milos Raonic, before taking out No4 seed Nishikori in just 70 minutes 6-4, 6-3—surely a mighty relief after Isner’s gruelling three-tie-breaker against Raonic.

Isner has yet to have his serve broken in the tournament, but only last week in Indian Wells, he met and was both broken and beaten by Djokovic in straight sets.

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