DUBAI // The Dubai Tennis Championships is the only tournament in which Novak Djokovic has reached three consecutive finals. But the Serbian looked far from happy yesterday after an engrossing, 141-minute battle in the semi-final that finished with Tomas Berdych retiring in the third set.
A two-time defending champion here, Djokovic looked sluggish at the start and lost the first set in a tie-break. He bounced back to win the second 6-2 and was leading 4-2 in the third when Berdych, struggling to move around the court or serve, decided to retire.
"I am happy to reach my third consecutive final here," Djokovic said. "I don't know how to explain the match, really. In one word: catastrophe. I think the match overall and my game, it was the worst match this year for me, [my] worst performance. But I managed to get a win, so I guess that's what matters."
Djokovic said it was a struggle at times to hold serve.
"I hate when I play this way, but I was still trying to fight within myself and try to stay focused and at least hold the serve," he said. "The serve was really good, so at least one of the elements in my game was good today. I could rely on that shot. Both of us, we served well in the first set."
As Djokovic struggled, Berdych looked as if he had a good chance to add to the lone victory he has over the world No 3 player, which came in the semis of Wimbledon last year. Unfortunately for the Czech, his left quadriceps started troubling him and the problem grew with every stretch till he could hardly move.
"I was not able to serve [or] move to the sides, and I just felt the pain," Berdych said. "It's no chance to just play with this guy in the conditions that I was feeling.
"So it just didn't make sense to be walking sides and just be able to finish. That's not my style.
"I felt it just too much for the serve and I couldn't serve. So to play Novak, one of the best return players, without the serve, no chance."
Djokovic now faces Roger Federer, who ended up on the losing side in their last match - in the Australian Open semi-final - but has a 13-7 career record against Djokovic.
Federer, who has won this tournament four times, has played all of his matches this week at night. Djokovic has played only one of his three matches at night, but the Serb said he will be fine in the final under the lights. "I guess it's going to be a little bit slower conditions, so I look forward to it," he said.
"I've played well over the years on this centre court, especially in the night matches. So I look forward to it."
He also looks forward to a final with Federer.
"In the last four, five months, we played five matches or something," he said. "It was always very close.
"I can expect a really good match. It's good for the tournament to have a Federer-Djokovic final, obviously. It will be a big challenge."