x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai Tennis Championship: Novak Djokovic is ‘the last man standing’

The Serbian secures his fourth title in Dubai with a hard-fought victory over Tomas Berdych.

Novak Djokovic returns to Tomas Berdych at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
Novak Djokovic returns to Tomas Berdych at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

DUBAI // Before this week, Tomas Berdych had appeared in 17 finals on the ATP World Tour, winning eight of them. None of those eight tournaments, however, had featured Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in the draw, or even Rafael Nadal.

A tournament without any of those top three in the fray, probably, does not carry much weight.

To be considered a part of the big league, Berdych had to beat Djokovic, Federer or Nadal for the title. He had an opportunity to do that here last night, but fell short once again. The Czech, who saved three match points before knocking Federer out in the semi-finals, had Djokovic on the backfoot at the start of last night’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final, breaking the world No 1 in the fifth game.

But he failed to keep the momentum going as the Serb buckled up and gradually established his control for a 7-5, 6-3 win in one hour and 34 minutes.

This was Djokovic’s fourth triumph in Dubai. He had won three on the trot, from 2009 to 2011, before his 18-match winning streak was brought to a halt by Andy Murray in last year’s semi-finals.

The win takes his current winning streak to 18 matches; he has not lost since going down to Sam Querry at Paris in October and is 13-0 for the year.

“It is a dream of every player to prevail in the end, be the last man standing and win the title,” Djokovic said. “It was a very close match and it could have gone either way. He was a break up and I was just fortunate in the end.”

Berdych, runner-up to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Marseille Open on Sunday, had made a confident start, serving big and hurrying Djokovic at the back of the court with his booming backhands. The Czech came up with some mean forehands as well, the best of them being the one fired across the court to give him a break in the fifth game.

Djokovic, boasting a 12-1 record over Berdych going into this game, did not look very comfortable during that phase, missing the lines and spraying his shots wide and long. The seventh game, however, signalled a change as the Serb served up a love game.

The next game, which lasted nine minutes, Djokovic broke back as Berdych produced an unforced error when he put a simple volley into the net. He then saved three break points in the ninth game and broke the Czech again in the twelfth to take the first set, which he had been trailing 4-2 at one stage, in 51 minutes.

In the second set, a break in the eighth game was enough for Djokovic to seal the title.

Berdych acknowledged after the defeat it was difficult playing Federer and Djokovic – winners of nine of the past 11 Dubai Tennis Championships between them – in consecutive matches.

“It is a really tough one,” Berdych said. “I was able to play the rallies with him quite well, especially from the baseline, and try to hold him under the pressure. He also made a couple of mistakes. So, the beginning was really good.

“[But] I gave my all yesterday [against Federer], everything I had, and I just didn’t have enough today. Novak was too good and he deserved the win.“I hope I can come back and win the title here. But let’s see for how long these two [Federer and Djokovic] guys are going to keep coming up here, or if they leave it for the others.”

arizvi@thenational.ae

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