Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

Dubai Tennis: Novak Djokovic survives Gael Monfils scare to set up final showdown with Stefanos Tsitsipas

Top seed saves three match points in an epic semi-final and will face the second seed for the title on Saturday

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his Semi Final match against France's Gael Monfils. Reuters
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his Semi Final match against France's Gael Monfils. Reuters

Novak Djokovic put it best himself after he survived a huge scare against Gael Monfils to reach the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final on Friday.

“It's like being on the edge of a cliff,” the top seed said after relying on his trademark resilience to defeat third seed Monfils 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 having saved three match points in the second set tiebreak. “You know there is no way back, so you have to jump, try to find a way to survive and pray for the best.”

When Djokovic trailed a set and a break and was clearly well below his best, it appeared as though praying might be the Serb’s only chance of producing a comeback. He was missing simple shots, his movement wasn’t right, and his focus appeared off.

But this being Novak Djokovic, incomparable in his ability to grind out results, there was a sense that once he pulled level with Monfils at 3-3 in the second set, this would soon become his match to lose.

Yet, almost lose it he did when Monfils produced some inspired shots to move into a 6-3 lead in the tiebreak. It looked like, finally, the Frenchman would earn his first win over Djokovic at the 17th attempt, before a combination of nerves on the part of Monfils and ice-cool composure from Djokovic saw the world No 1 level the match after winning the tiebreak 10-8.

From that point on, there was only going to be one winner and as Monfils began to struggle with his heavily strapped leg, it was clear his race had been run, Djokovic wrapping up the final set in less than half an hour.

“It was just one of those matches where you have to hang in,” Djokovic, 32, said. “I knew if I managed somehow to get back in the second set and hold my serve, I'll get chances.”

Saturday’s final will pit the top two seeds against each other after Stefanos Tsitsipas had earlier cruised through his semi-final assignment, beating British No 1 Dan Evans 6-2, 6-3.

Tsitsipas, 21, will be aiming to go one better than 12 months ago when he lost in the final to Roger Federer. The Greek world No 6 has been in fine form having successfully defended his Marseille Open title on Sunday, while he will take confidence from his head-to-head record against Djokovic, which stands at two wins each.

“He's in really good form and shape. He's been playing great tennis,” Tsitsipas said at the prospect of facing Djokovic. “For sure I'm going to have to bring the best out of my game, reduce my mistakes, and stay aggressive like today.

“He's just a solid player. Everything is good: forehand, backhand, serve. Very consistent, very solid. Doesn't miss a lot. It's going to take something extra for me to beat him tomorrow. I'm going to try and seek that.”

Updated: February 28, 2020 10:51 PM

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