DUBAI // Novak Djokovic's form over the first two rounds of his Dubai Championship defence has been as contrasting as night and day. Impressive in accounting for Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez under the Aviation Club floodlights on Monday, the world No 2 looked like a Tour journeyman under the desert sun yesterday as he laboured to get the better of his less illustrious Serbian compatriot Viktor Troicki.
"I think this is one of the rare tournaments where you really feel a big, big difference between the day match and night match," said Djokovic after carving out a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win. "The balls go so much faster and I wasn't happy with my performance today. He was the better player for a set and a half. As soon as the shade came on the court, I felt more control over my game. So in the end, I managed to win which is what matters most of all."
Djokovic, who has now beaten Troicki in the last three of their four encounters, was complimentary to his rival who will next week become a Davis Cup colleague. "He served well and put a lot of pressure on me. He was very patient because he knew I was making a lot of unforced errors in the early part of the match." The mistakes transferred to Troicki's racket when the result was in the balance midway through the second set and a series of loose ground strokes contributed enormously to his first dropped service game which eased the anxiety in the Djokovic camp.
Having accepted the opportunity to draw level, Djokovic then pressed the accelerator in the decider and raced through the first four games to move a step closer to retaining a title for the first time in his career. "I know I can challenge any player in the world when I'm playing well," he added. "Today that was not the case. But sometimes you've got to fight. I have won many matches in my life just hanging in there and that's what happened today."
Djokovic, who will today face the winner of last night's concluding second round match between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ivan Ljubicic, is determined to do well again here. "Last year winning Dubai helped me a lot to regain my confidence," he reflected. "And after that I had an amazing summer season on clay. So I will try to do the same." The possibility of a Serbo-Croatian final between Djokovic and the in-form Marin Cilic was kept alive by sixth-seeded Cilic's convincing 6-2, 7-6 conquest of Austrian qualifier Stefan Koubek.
Cilic, who dominated the opening set, had to work much harder in the second and was delighted at not having to go into a stamina-sapping decider in the afternoon sunshine by fighting back from 0-5 down in the tie-break to win it 8-6. "I let my game drop a little in the second set but overall I'm pleased with the way I played," he said. "I was smart and aggressive when I had to be and you are always happy when some things work out as planned."
Cilic has now won 17 of the 18 matches he has played this season. Only Britain's Andy Murray, with an inspired performance in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, has been able to get the better of the formidable figure of the 6ft 6in big-serving giant. He moves from one Austrian rival to another today as he takes on Jurgen Melzer who got the better of Spain's Tommy Robredo 6-3, 7-5. That will be a repeat of their recent Zagreb meeting which Cilic won in straight sets but the Croatian warned: "He is a dangerous player. I have a positive streak against him [four wins out of five] but it's never easy."
The exciting adventure of Somdev Devvarman, the Indian qualifier, was brought to an end by the experienced Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis but not without a real fight out on Court Three. Devvarman, ranked 143 in the world, stunned the former Australian Open runner-up by taking the second set of their encounter but ran out of steam in the decider allowing Baghdatis to coast into a third round meeting with Germany's Michael Berrer by virtue of a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 scoreline.