ABU DHABI // A few days ago, Novak Djokovic could reasonably have expected to be looking across the net at Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray in an elite-calibre final in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship today.
But a stomach virus struck down Nadal before he got to the UAE and Janko Tipsarevic knocked Murray out on Thursday, and the man who will trade shots with the world No 1 today will be Nicolas Almagro, the Spaniard who just a few days ago was celebrating Christmas in his homeland.
Almagro, ranked No 11 in the world, may have faced tougher assignments, but probably not many. He has won 12 ATP championships, but all of them have been on clay.
The playing surface at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex is, unfortunately, a hard court.
Almagro is winless in three previous meetings with Djokovic, most recently at the Indian Wells Masters tournament in March, and has yet to take a set off him.
He lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 to the Serb in their most prominent meeting, a last-16 match in the 2011 Australian Open.
Almagro's best hope will be that he will play as well today as he did yesterday, and that Djokovic will not. Almagro fought back to defeat Tipsarevic 2-6, 7-6, 6-2 after Djokovic had thrashed David Ferrer 6-0, 6-3.
With US$250,000 (Dh1.21 million) going to the victor in the winner-take-all final, Djokovic plans to go all out.
When asked, while Tipsarevic was leading Almagro yesterday, if he would go easy on his compatriot in the final, Djokovic said: "I'm not going easy on anybody."
Almagro will not find any comfort in comparative scores. His Spain compatriot Ferrer won both of his singles matches in the Davis Cup final last month in Prague, but Almagro lost both of his, to Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, in four sets, as the Czechs won the championship by a 3-2 score.
In that event, Almagro seemed a notch below Ferrer, who seemed more than a notch below Djokovic yesterday.
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