x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Nearly a full top table as Mikhail Youzhny denies Mardy Fish his spot

Russian the outsider as seven of the top 10 make it to last eight.

Roger Federer, who beat Feliciano Lopez on Wednesday will meet Mikhail Youzhny in the quarter-finals in Dubai.
Roger Federer, who beat Feliciano Lopez on Wednesday will meet Mikhail Youzhny in the quarter-finals in Dubai.

DUBAI // Credit the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and one Mikhail Youzhny. The former has churned out some promising quarter-finals, and only the latter has bucked the commanding order.

"It could almost be like eight top-10 players," Andy Murray said on Wednesday of the starriness at Aviation Club, and his "almost" almost turned out spot on.

Instead, the four-match procession on Thursday will sport seven top-10 players, those ranked Nos 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10, and it would have boasted No 8 as well had Youzhny not beat Mardy Fish 6-2, 7-6.

As it happens, Youzhny spent 20 top-10 weeks straddling 2010 and 2011 and still holds No 34, a creditable ranking even if the lowest still going on the fast hard courts with the balls flying especially in the sunlight.

For his trouble, he will get his 12th try at defeating Roger Federer, the No 3 player who once built a mansion at No 1.

"Look, he should have won a couple against me for sure," Federer said, with their next bout coming as the sun wanes at 5pm on Thursday, Federer having reached it beneath lights on Wednesday night by edging through the better-than-ever Feliciano Lopez, 7-5, 6-3.

That will follow the 2pm meeting of No 4 Andy Murray and No 7 Tomas Berdych, who joined the small chorus celebrating the court speed and said: "It's not many places in the world to get these fast conditions. You know, the tournaments are getting slower and slower, I mean the surfaces. And yeah, here it's a little bit different, but actually I like it."

It did not deter No 1 Novak Djokovic on Wednesday, but 74th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky gave a pretty good hint that he might, with his diverse game of serve-and-volley and risky drop shots. Twice Stakhovsky lurked two points from winning the first set, including at 5-4 with a mini-break in the tiebreaker, and sometimes Djokovic got his feet tangled for one of the game's rarer sights anymore.

Yet the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open title-holder and thrice-defending champion here prevailed 7-6, 6-3, to turn up opposite his Serbian countryman Janko Tipsarevic, the world No 9 who spent Wednesday getting past 86th-ranked Flavio Cipolla by 6-7, 6-1, 6-1.

"There is not much difference in the shots," Djokovic said in comparing the top rung of players to the aspiring masses beneath. "We don't hit, I don't know, 10 miles stronger shot than our opponents." They just manage pivotal moments better, Djokovic maintained, a contention borne out in his tricky trip opposite Stakhovsky.

The all-Serbian quarter-final, then, will begin the evening session at 7pm, leading to a night match that merely convenes the players ranked No 5 and No 10, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro. Tsonga went through Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic in the closing match last evening, 6-3, 6-4, and Del Potro chased Kazakhstan's Andrey Golubev, 6-4, 6-2.

All operate on the quick courts that now amount to a rarity on tour. "On the quick court," Federer said, "it's only usually the first three shots of a point that decide the outcome of it. So it's a different mindset totally," but one the masters clearly can master.

cculpepper@thenational.ae