Djokovic in final after third Dubai fightback
DUBAI: Novak Djokovic made his third straight recovery to make it into the Dubai Open final and maintain his hopes of retaining an ATP World Tour title for the first time in his career here.
The world number two from Serbia came from a set and a break down in the semi-final against Marcos Baghdatis, the former Australian Open finalist from Cyprus, to win 6-7 (2/7), 6-3, 6-4 without ever playing at his best.
But the defending champion had stamina and fight. It was these qualities which had enabled him to recover from a set down against both Viktor Troicki and Ivan Ljubicic in previous rounds, and now to get through a second set in which, despite the score, he was constantly on the brink of trouble.
"I played bad again today," said Djokovic, with harsh candour.
"I was struggling with my serve. When you don''t have an advantage with your serve it''s difficult to play against Marcos, who is very aggressive.
"There are some tournaments when you don''t feel well and you don''t feel great, and still manage to win. This was one, so I am fortunate to get through.
"I think people could see my frustration. It''s not easy - you don''t want to know what happens inside my head."
That frustration first found expression as early as the third game when Djokovic began to smack himself on repeatedly the thigh, and occasionally to swing his arms in irritation.
Later he hit his foot so hard with his racket that one feared that he would injure himself. Then as the first set tie-break began to get away from him, he hurled his racket fiercely down.
His problem was that Baghdatis was prepared to play a cagey game of physical chess before choosing a favourable situation in which to open up with his bigger weapons, and in the lengthier rallies sometimes Djokovic''s ground-stroking rhythm let him down.
Worse still, in the second set Djokovic lost some confidence in his serve, losing a service game to fall behind again at 1-2, and, remarkably, slipping to break point down in three other service games.
Fortunately for him Baghdatis was unable to produce his most telling weapons on any of these big points. Six chances to make a second break of serve were spurned by the unseeded player and twice Baghdatis had game points on his own serve which he did not convert.
When Djokovic got his nose in front for the first time by breaking for 2-1 in the final set and consolidating for 3-1, he began to feel he might make his third successive escape, though it was always a struggle for the champion.
Several times Djokovic bounced the ball more then 20 times before delivering his serve, and must have been close to the 25-second limit beyond which a code violation warning is imposed.
But his deliberation paid off. Despite a total of ten double faults and winning less than half the points behind his second delivery, he closed it out in a final game in which Baghdatis had the crowd screaming louder and louder with two appeals to the Hawkeye replay system.
Djokovic now plays Mikhail Youzhny, to whom he lost two weeks ago in the Rotterdam semi-finals and who reached his second final in succession with a 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) win over a surprise survivor, Jurgen Melzer.
It was an economical performance in difficult, fiercely hot and windy conditions, and the seventh-seeded Russian also served consistently well, especially when it mattered.
But the margins were small: just one break of serve in the penultimate game of the first set, and one mini-break only in the second set tie-break.
Youzhny had come close to the exit on Tuesday, when he was a set and 3-5 down against Lukas Lacko, a Slovakian qualifier. But now his run through to the final has created hopes of going better than his runners-up place in The Netherlands.