DOHA // World No 1 Roger Federer had no answer to an inspired performance from Russia's Nikolay Davydenko last night, the third seed roaring through to an unexpected Qatar Open final date with a resurgent Rafael Nadal. Davydenko, who had failed to beat Federer in 12 meetings before breaking his duck on the way to winning the ATP Tour finals in London last year, clearly took heart from that morale-boosting victory to upset the stylish Swiss.
Helped by a remarkable 100 per cent success rate on his first serve in the opening set, he kept his momentum going to cope with Federer's second set improvement and, despite failing to convert a match point on his opponent's serve in the ninth game, he held his own serve shortly afterwards to seal a splendid 6-4, 6-4 victory. The shock result deprives the Doha crowd of the dream final they yearned for between the two biggest box office attractions in the game, but Federer can have no complaints after being outplayed on the night.
He will now travel to Australia to prepare for the first grand slam of the new campaign, knowing that he will have to improve considerably on this display to regain the Melbourne title from his arch- rival Nadal. The Spaniard has looked the real deal since reappearing for action in Abu Dhabi last week. He was an impressive winner of the exhibition tournament in the UAE capital and has risen to greater heights in Qatar on the way to his first officially sanctioned final in eight months.
Whatever happens against Davydenko this evening the Spaniard will be confident of more Australian glory. Badly affected in the latter half of 2009 by knee problems he has indicated over the last few days that he will be keener in 2010 to finish rallies quicker than in the past and he was even prepared to volley - with a fair degree of success - during his comfortable 6-1, 6-3 semi-final conquest of Viktor Troicki.
Troicki, 23, turned in a strange performance unbecoming of a player who made steady progress in the last campaign to 29th in the world without winning a first career title. The Serbian started and finished strongly but in between he was lacking in ideas and motivation and allowed a much more focused Nadal to rattle off 11 games in a row which included a run of 18 successive points to the consternation of a crowd who clearly expected more from the fifth seed.
"It was a good match for me," Nadal said. "I will try to play like this again tomorrow. I am moving really well now." Speaking before the conclusion of the Federer match, he said: "It's going to be very difficult tomorrow. I have to play my best tennis, like this all the time, if I want to have any chance of winning." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org