Roger Federer will bid for his 100th career title and his eighth Dubai title when he faces Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday. Federer overcame Borna Coric 6-2 6-2, and Tsitsipas needed one minute under three hours to see off the challenge of Gael Monfils, winning 4-6 7-6 7-6. The victory elevated Tsitsipas into the top 10 for the first time.
The outcome of the battle between two recent tournament champions remained in doubt right up until the final ball. Monfils won in Rotterdam two weeks ago, and Tsitsipas lifted the Marseille trophy last Sunday.
Fortunes went first one way and then the other. Tsitsipas led 3-0 in the opening set but then lost the next five games. In the second set, Monfils saved a break point for 0-2 by winning a 30-stroke rally and then broke to lead 2-1 on his fourth break point at the end of a 16 point game. Tsitsipas broke back for 3-3 and then held a set point at 5-4 before the set moved into a tiebreak. In the final set, Monfils had to save three break points before then losing four of his own when leading 4-3.
“Today, I mean, I entered the semi-final, I was so tired. I could feel my body. I don’t know, I was not expecting much from me, to be honest,” said Tsitsipas. “I was just playing. My main focus was not to go (for) too much. If you would play good shots, usually I would run for them, give 100%. But today I felt like my body will crack if I do that again.
“Beating the big guys, big players, players that have been in the top 10, means a lot to me. I want(ed) to get there at some point myself, and I made it today. I don’t know, probably a special day for Greece. I’m practicing. I’m doing everything, all the hard work I’m doing to face these guys and beat them. That’s my main purpose on court, beat most of the guys all the time I’m facing. The biggest joy is to beat the top 10 guys.”
Federer’s victory was far more straightforward. Coric had beaten Federer in their two most recent meetings, but this week all three matches he had won ended in third set tiebreaks and Federer was never under threat against what was surely an exhausted opponent.
“I was really happy with my play today, in terms of feeling (it) was definitely by far the best one. So that was good,” said Federer. “I’m sure Borna was feeling it a little bit from his last few matches. Again, I’ve also been tired the past and lost some. You just take it on your chin, move on, you try your best. He did that today.
“From my side, I think it was important to mix it up, be solid, not give him too many chances, keep showing him it’s going to be really difficult for him to win. At the end I actually played really good. I’m very pleased.”
The final will be a replay of their fourth round match at the Australian Open, which Tsitsipas won to launch himself into super-stardom. Does Federer see it as a revenge match?
“Maybe a little bit,” he said. “Obviously I was horribly disappointed and upset that I missed as many breakpoints as I did, had all the opportunities I had. That match kind of hurt in some ways. But, you know, it’s part of the game. I hope I’m going to play well. I’m more focused just on my own game, to be quite honest, than him. Probably reaching a hundred titles. I’m just going to try to focus and play good tennis.”
“I’m sure he will be pumped up,” said Tsitsipas. “It’s not easy for both of us. He obviously wants to beat me. For him, that loss was a big thing. I’m pretty sure he will come inside the court fired up, wanting to take a revenge from me. I’m definitely expecting that.”
“We have enjoyed so many great matches here over the 27 years of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and the contest between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Gael Monfils must go down as one of the very best we have seen,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We congratulate Tsitsipas on reaching the top 10 as a result of his victory today, and eagerly look forward to seeing how he fares against Roger Federer in Saturday’s final.”
Tournament Director Salah Tahlak added, “The battle between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Gael Monfils produced drama of the very highest quality from two of the greatest entertainers in the sport and will stay long in the memory of those who were lucky enough to witness it. Now we can look forward to what will surely be another classic encounter as Federer seeks to avenge his loss to Tsitsipas at the Australian Open last month.”