In what was arguably the most dramatic 3-setter of this young 2013 season, Tomas Berdych earned his second straight big win over Roger Federer today in the semifinals at Dubai. The Czech saved three second set matchpoints to deny Federer a shot at a sixth Dubai title, defeating the local resident 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4.
Berdych came out of the blocks flat and rusty, and a fleet-footed Federer took advantage racing out to a quick break and the first set. Berdych turned the tables early in the second with a break edge, but couldn’t capitalize on a 5-2 lead – yes, another epic Berdych meltdown. Berdcyh somehow mentally kept it together and earned a set point on Federer’s serve up 6-5, but failed to stop play on a Federer out ball, eventually losing the point in disgust and then game.
With the momentum and Berdych visibly rattled from the no-call, Federer gained the early mini-break in the second set breaker. Berdcyh though again got up off the mat and won four straight points culminating in a defensive reflex volley winner that appeared to hit all frame. Now it was Federer’s turn to respond and he did just that taking the next four of his own to lead 6-4 with two matchpoints. But he, too, couldn’t covert. Eventually, it was Berdych taking the breaker on his third setpoint 10-8 with a crushing forehand return winner.
Federer’s level continued to drop in the third while a re-focused Berdcyh just blasted away from the baseline. As Berdych honed in from the ground, Federer began rushing the net with greater frequency, but no payoff. Berdych broke at 2-2 and then hung on for his fourth win in five tries on an outdoor hardcourt against the aging Federer, a run that includes the US Open.
“I couldn’t be feeling any better,” said Berdych. “I would say [it was] almost in front of his home crowd and to be the one who won that match, it really feels great. I’m very pleased the way I played today.
“In every single point, I was believing in myself, trying to be just focused on that single point. I didn’t want to see the score and just go one by one. It worked. It’s the kind of tactic that I will try to stick with and try to bring it for every single match.”
Berdych improves to 6-11 against Federer while for Roger, the drought continues. He hasn’t won a title since Cincinnati last August and now two months into the season he has yet to reach even a final. And life on the pro tour at 31 won’t get any easier, especially not with his selective schedule and Rafael Nadal rounding back into shape.
“Obviously I leave this match with a lot of regrets,” said Federer after the 2-hours, 20-minute loss. “Serving for the match, with the serve, having chances in the beginning of the second, when he wasn’t quite in the match yet, to go break up, [a] set and a break. [There were] a few points where things just didn’t happen for me.
“He’s got obviously a big game, has a big serve which makes him difficult to play maybe on a quick court than a slower court. Maybe you can move him around a bit more, but at the same time he has more time to set up the shot, whereas the way the game has gone he has adapted really well to those conditions.”
It’s also the third time Federer’s fell to Berdcyh after holding matchpoints, that after Miami and Davis Cup doubles losses.
In the first semi, Novak Djokovic jumped all over Juan Martin Del Potro then hung for for a tough 6-3, 7-6(4) victory. Djokovic cruised in the first set, then came undone early in the second. The Argentine grabbed a break and had the momentum until a strange time code violation rattled Delpo who was serving 3-1, 30-40. After expressing some discontent to the chair, Delpo lost the next point and then the next three games. In a blink, it was Djokovic serving for the match at 5-3 but incredibly the Serb couldn’t finish it off. About 20 minutes later he did in the breaker.
“I was very pleased with the performance overall and the way I handled myself in the tough moments,” said Djokovic. “Mentally I stayed tough and believed that I could, you know, that I could go all the way and win in straight sets. I didn’t really allow myself to be negative.”
Added Del Potro, “He deserved to win. He played so well in the tiebreak,” said Del Potro. “I was break up in the second set, and I made mistakes. I lost the calm when I start to discuss with the umpire, and he come back in the second (set) so quick.”
So tomorrow it’s Djokovic v. Berdych. Novak is the big favorite of course. He’s won Dubai three times, he’s won 17 straight matches (11-0 this year) and he’s dominated The Birdman winning 12 of 13 meetings, and 10 straight! That’s right, 10 straight!
Novak didn’t have his “A” game today – he showed some flashes – and honestly he might not need it tomorrow either. Regardless, I think it’s Djokovic in two sets but the court is quick so I expect Berdych to be right in there.
Later tonight in about an hour, Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Almagro will battle on the red clay in the Acapulco semifinals. For Nadal it’s the first real test he’s had in this comeback. After playing a bunch of tomato cans the last month he’ll finally face someone in the top 20, though Almagro isn’t exactly that mental pillar of strength (he’s 0-8 career against Rafa winning a scant two sets) but at least he has some game, so I’m told. Awaiting in the final is the very hungry, very fit David Ferrer. This should be good.
In the Delray Beach semifinals tomorrow, it’s John Isner against Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Tommy Haas vs. the Ernests Gulbis. Yup, that Gulbis. Tennis Channel has wall-to-all coverage off all three events tomorrow, plus the Nadal match this evening.
SATURDAY DUBAI SCHEDULE
CENTRE COURT start 5:00 pm
 R Lindstedt (SWE) / N Zimonjic (SRB) vs M Bhupathi (IND) / M Llodra (FRA)
Not Before 7:00 PM
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  T Berdych (CZE)
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