x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Speed kills as Djokovic wins battle of ace hitters over Tsonga

Serb returns to the final of Mubadala World Tennis Championship after dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6, 6-3, reports Steve Elling.

Novak Djokovic returns a volley during the Mubadala World Tennis Championship against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi on Friday. Djokovic  won the match 7-6 6-3. Sammy Dallal / The National
Novak Djokovic returns a volley during the Mubadala World Tennis Championship against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi on Friday. Djokovic won the match 7-6 6-3. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Six of the best players in men’s tennis this week are being housed at one of the capital’s best hotels, the Yas Viceroy, an inn that is famously enveloped by the city’s eye-popping Formula One venue.

Truth be told, the Yas Marina Circuit might be the second-quickest track in Abu Dhabi at the moment.

On Friday night, the world No 2 Novak Djokovic dutifully noted that the notoriously fast centre court at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is visibly quicker than in the past couple of years, a point that No 1 Rafael Nadal underscored. Nadal called it the fastest surface he has played in the past couple of years, period.

Speed certainly did not kill Djokovic, the two-time defending champion and one of the world’s most dominant players on hard-court surfaces, as he mowed down France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets to advance to Saturday’s 5pm final.

In a memorable duel of players blowing laser-beam serves at one another on an ultra-slick surface, the pair amassed 17 aces between them as Djokovic overcame a slow start to win 7-6, 6-3. He will play world No 3 David Ferrer in the final.

Tsonga was reaching 200kph on his serves well into the second set, and had Djokovic chasing shadows at times, with the Serbian star pretty much returning the favour when it was his turn to bash away.

“After a while, you get used to it,” Djokovic said, laughing. “He has one of the strongest serves in the game, and it’s very precise.”

It should stand in stark contrast with the style he will face in the final. Tsonga managed only a few lengthy rallies, but Ferrer is a notoriously scrappy player who embraces long, stubborn exchanges.

Djokovic said the yin and yang of the two matches is what he likes most about the tournament. Every foe is a top-10 player, and the variety of playing styles makes for a perfect early season challenge.

“David is a different player, and a great player,” Djokovic said.

The two have played in the Mubadala event in each of the past two seasons. Djokovic beat the Spaniard 6-2, 6-1 in the final in 2011, and he dispatched him 6-0, 6-3 last year in their opening match. The latter took precisely 70 minutes.

In official ATP play, Djokovic had beaten Tsonga the past seven times they had played. Given that Djokovic finished the official 2013 season on a four-tournament winning streak – he has not lost a match since August – it appears that 2014 could be a continuation of the same form.

“I exceeded my own expectations,” Djokovic said. “My performance today was great.”

Last night marked Djokovic’s first match with his new coach, Boris Becker, in attendance. Becker was seated in the first row, at court side.

So far, the guy is undefeated.

Murray happy with early results after return from back surgery

Andy Murray said he was pleased with his ability to play two tennis matches in about 17 hours, and to win the second, a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Stanislas Wawrinka on Friday.

On Thursday, he lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on a cool evening, but had little trouble with the world’s No 8 player in the sun-drenched fifth-place match Friday afternoon.

“I didn’t feel too bad when I got up, which was quite good, because we had a pretty quick turnaround,” Murray said. “When you’re stiff, the heat makes a big difference.”

He goes to Doha now and also will play doubles as he seeks to get as much competition as he can, after three months off following back surgery.

“In a couple of weeks I need to be able to play five sets,” he said, looking ahead to the Australian Open. “It’s probably going to be hard and my body will be stiff. The only way to get conditioned to play matches is to play matches, unfortunately.”