Dubai 2015: Novak Djokovic beats Berdych to set up Federer title duel

Novak Djokovic battles past Tomas Berdych in three sets to set up a final showdown with Roger Federer in Dubai

novak djokovic
Novak Djokovic will play Roger Federer in the Dubai final Photo: Marianne Bevis

It’s safe to say that Tomas Berdych had not enjoyed the greatest good fortune in his last few years in Dubai.

He had not fallen short of the quarters here since reaching the semis in 2011, but that year, he met eventual champion Novak Djokovic, the next he faced Andy Murray on his way to his first Dubai final, and then in two back-to-back finals, he had met Djokovic and, last year, Roger Federer.

Again he would have to beat Djokovic, for only the third time in 20 meetings, and should he do so, he could then face Federer again.

In fairness to the big No8 ranked Czech, he was in pretty good form—as he has been during a five-year residence in the top 10, much of that ranked between Nos5 and 7. And this year, he was on a strong run of two finals in Doha and Rotterdam with a semi finish at the Australian Open in between, a 13-3 run.

And Berdych has shown ambition for more, has changed his coaching line-up, and worked hard on the areas of his game noted by Djokovic as his weaker elements. As a big man, his movement and speed have never been as impressive as the likes of Federer, Nadal and Murray, though he has compensated for that with heavy power down both wings. That said, he has improved, shown a greater willingness to come to the net, and was starting to hold his own in extended, baseline rallies.

But with two long and tough matches in his legs in his current run in Dubai, it was a always a big ask to turn the tables on one of the quickest, most flexible and confident men in tennis, and the clear leader of the pack at the top of the rankings.

And it looked, at the start, even more one-sided than the evidence predicted. It took just 23 minutes and 35 points for Djokovic to race to a 6-0 first set. The writing looked on the wall as Djokovic then held to love at the start of the second and broke to love as well.

After three such short matches in yesterday’s quarter-finals and under an hour to complete the first semi today, could this possibly be another overly swift affair?

tomas berdych

Tomas Berdych in action in DubaiPhoto: Marianne Bevis

The answer was no. The man who yesterday did take his match to three sets duly obliged again, and the crowd was delighted. Berdych broke straight back and then hit the first ace of the match from either side to go 3-2.

But in this topsy-turvy contest, both then held to love before exchanging breaks once again. After 45 minutes of pulsating competition, they stood all square and looked destined for a tie-break. But Djokovic was badly wrong-footed, slipped over and, at 5-6, called the trainer to fix a grazed hand.

Perhaps that inspired Berdych to greater effort, but he brought up two break points with the running forehand pass of the night. Djokovic found a big serve to save the first but Berdych would not be denied, and the Czech took a deserved set, 7-5.

Indeed Berdych looked the stronger at the start of the third, too, producing a 210kph ace to hold the first game and serving to love in the third game.

But suddenly the momentum shifted. Just as he had in the first set, Djokovic threw in some killer drop shots and had his opponent on a piece of string to break in the fifth. And try as Berdych could, four deuces and a break point came and went in the next to seal a 4-2 lead for the Serb.

And the lead would not change. After just over two hours, Djokovic was into his fifth Dubai final—and what Federer would not want to know is that the world No1 has yet to lose a final at this tournament.

This is, of course, the final that everyone hoped for, a 37th meeting in a rivalry that has produced some of the most compelling and exciting tennis of the current generation.

Between them they have won 10 of the last 12 titles here. Federer has won 19 of their meetings, Djokovic 17. Federer won their first Dubai encounter in 2007 and the semi-final last year—both in three sets. Djokovic, in his glorious 2011 of 10 titles, won their other encounter.

They have also, to emphasise the balance, alternated wins in their last six matches dating back just over a year.

Djokovic recalled those Dubai matches: “Of course when you play Roger, it’s always a great challenge. He brings the best game in you, and he makes you play your best tennis. If you want to win you have to play your best tennis, especially against Roger in the finals in any event but here particularly, because I feel like this is the kind of a surface and conditions that it suits his game the best… I look forward to it.

“Of course he has support anywhere he goes in the world. He’s Roger Federer, with all his accomplishments and everything. We all know that he enjoys a lot of support. But the other hand I think I have also decent support, and hopefully we can create a quality match for the crowd to enjoy.”

It almost goes without saying. Federer has lost only two best-of-three-set matches since Rome last May—in the final of the Toronto Masters and the quarter-finals of the Paris Masters. He was unbeaten at the World Tour Finals prior to pulling out of the final.

Djokovic has already won the Australian title this year and concluded 2014 with three titles and a semi finish in his last four tournaments.

These two head the rankings by a distance for a reason: their latest showdown should be a cracker.

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