Defending champion Roger Federer will play world number one Novak Djokovic in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday. It will be their fourth meeting in Dubai and second clash in the final.
Incredibly, the talented twosome have between them claimed the coveted trophy in 10 of the last 12 years stretching back to 2003, with only Rafael Nadal in 2006 and Andy Roddick in 2008 breaking their stranglehold.
Djokovic, who is now just one win away from his 50th career singles title, needed two hours four minutes to overcome Tomas Berdych 6-0 5-7 6-4, while Federer took just 56 minutes to end the run of Borna Coric 6-2 6-1.
Djokovic swept the opening set with ease and went up a break in the second, but his lead was short-lived. Berdych levelled at 2-2, and although he failed to serve out the set after breaking again to lead 5-3 he broke a third time to level the match. Just one break, for 3-2, settled the tightly-contested final set.
“Even after the first set that went as perfectly as possible and when I was break up I knew that the match is not over,” said Djokovic. “You know, he has room to elevate his game. I just wanted to stay on that level, but it was hard. I started making some unforced errors, backed up a little bit, less first serves in. Then he stepped in.
“From that moment on it was an even match, a lot of unforced errors from my side. Just wasn’t feeling the ball great in the third but somehow managed to hang in there.”
Berdych felt helpless in the first set, and was disappointed that after eventually getting into the match he had lost such a close battle.
“Obviously very disappointed with that,” he said. “I mean, it was a close game, but that’s how it is. I was trying to get my chances. I get quite used to those kind of situations that you play with him, and then you just thought that you are on another planet and you have nothing to do. You just have to wait and be patient and try to keep focused, self‑belief, and try to keep going.”
Federer encountered few problems once a few games had been played and he had assessed an opponent he was facing for the first time. Coric held two break points in the opening game, Federer then broke and led 3-0, and although Coric broke back at love in the fifth game it was then plain sailing for the six-time champion.
“I don’t know his game very well,” said Federer. “Maybe I was a bit tentative in the beginning, but I was still able to get off to somewhat of a good start, not being broken early, then breaking him right away.
“Okay, he got back on even terms, but it was important not to give him the lead. I felt like after five games I knew more or less what to expect, and I realized what had worked until that point and what had not.”
The youngest semi-finalist in the tournament’s history, 18-year old Coric admitted that he was nervous about playing Federer.
“Yeah, I was. I was. I was nervous,” he said. “ I knew that it’s going to be very tough, you know. But when you come on the court and actually feel the ball and feel the pressure which he’s making, it’s actually been tougher than when you’re watching it on the sofa in front of the TV.
“You know, he was just way too good for me. I was feeling so rushed. I didn’t have any time to play my game plan. I was just trying to hold in the rally as long as I can, and it was basically only thing what I could do.”
“We enjoyed two tremendously exciting semi-finals, with Roger Federer playing superbly to defeat a player who is certain to feature strongly here in the coming years, and Novak Djokovic working until the final ball to overcome a very strong challenge from Tomas Berdych,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, the tournament owners and organizers. ”Now the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships will feature two of the very best players the game has ever seen and we can look forward to a wonderful climax to what has been a magnificent two weeks of tennis.”