Our first big marquee ATP final of the season is set for Saturday in Dubai where the top two tennis players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, meet for the first time this season.
The two played times last year (not including their canceled ATP finals match) with Federer winning three including the semifinals a year ago in Dubai.
Federer leads overall 19-17 winning at least a set in their last seven, but in finals Djokovic actually holds the edge 7-4 taking three of their last four in title bouts.
Entering the match, both guys are playing exceptionally well on these slick courts. Federer, who is the defending Dubai champion having won the title six times in his career, hasn’t dropped a set this week and other than a brief hiccup int he first set against Fernando Verdasco, has looked devastatingly good. Granted, he hasn’t played elite level guys, but still beating former Top 10s like Mikhail Youzhny, Richard Gasquet and Verdasco in awfully convincing fashion bodes well.
And today he gave a lesson to the promising 18-year-old phenom Borna Coric. Yes, Coric was overwhelmed, but Federer got the job done.
“I can see why he has so far caused difficulties for some of the top guys and he still has a lot of room for improvement in his game,” said Federer of the young Croat. “He does a really good job for a big guy. It’s unbelievable how in the past 10 years we have seen so many big guys moving well from the baseline. I think he returns very well, especially off second serves, and that’s such a huge part of today’s game, I believe.”
Djokovic also breezed early on this week, looking even better than Roger that is until the second set today against Tomas Berdych. After blowing out the Czech 6-0 in the first, Berdych climbed back to take the second, then had an early break chance in the third before Djokovic regained control to win his 16h straight over the Birdman on hardcourts.
“Even after the first set that went as perfectly as possible and when I was break up I knew that the match is not over,” said Djokovic. “I just wanted to stay on that level, but it was hard.
“I started making some unforced errors, backed up a little bit, less first serves in. Then he stepped in. From that moment on it was an even match, a lot of unforced errors from my side. [I] just wasn’t feeling the ball great in the third but somehow managed to hang in there.”
So we are set for the 37th career meeting between Roger and Novak. This one in Dubai where I think the quicker courts do favor Federer – Roger’s won 2 of 3 in Dubai against Novak. And Novak concurs.
“When you play Roger, it’s always a great challenge,” said Djokovic. “If you want to win you have to play your best tennis, especially against Roger in the final of any event, but here particularly. Because I feel like this is the kind of a surface and conditions that it suits his game the best.”
Remarkably, between the two they have won the Dubai title now 11 of the last 13 years! And Djokovic’s never lost in the final there winning all four times he’s advanced this far.
This is, though, Federer’s second home. Or really his home court if you want. He arguably more comfortable on the Dubai court than any other outside of Wimbledon. The speed lends perfectly to Roger’s attacking game and first-strike tennis.
So, the court conditions do favor Roger and Roger did beat Novak in Dubai a year ago. But looking at the 2015 resumes I have to give the edge to Djokovic. Roger hasn’t even played a Top 5 player yet. Djokovic has and he’s beaten Murray, beaten Stan and Berdych was a good win.
And to me this is Novak’s time. He’s 27 in the prime of his career. He just won the Australian Open. He’s been the best hardcourt player for the last few years. He needs this win more, he as the pressure, so I have to pick him here. But it should be a great match.
The pick: Djokovic in three
The women aren’t too far away in Doha where Victoria Azarenka earned her first career win over Venus Williams 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 to book a spot in the final against Lucie Safarova, who beat Saurez-Navarro.
As 3-time defending champion, Azarenka’s won 14 straight matches in Doha. And after missing so much time recently due to injury, it seems like the 25-year-old Azarenka is finally back to playing top tier tennis.
“The final is something that you never know what’s going to happen,” Azarenka said. “There can be favorites and no favorites. Anything can happen. So for me what’s really important is that I finally reach my first final after such a long break and I’m excited about it. It’s the time of the week where you got to give it all and try your best.
“You have one more match and I’ve just got to stay focused on my game. But she’s been showing some amazing tennis from last year as well, so her confidence level is definitely up. So I’m sure it’s going to be a good match.”
I should also add it was an excellent week for Venus who continues her return to the top. At 34 she’s clearly still a real threat out there. That’s good to see.
Tonight, Rafael Nadal is on in the Buenos Aires quarterfinal against Federico Delbonis. Nadal could meet Carlos Berlocq in the semifinals then either Nico Almagro or Tommy Robredo in the final. After last week’s disappointment, this is a title Rafa has to have, and I think he gets it.
Also, Kei Nishikori and David Ferrer are in opposite semifinals on the hardcourts in Acapulco. Quite an achievement for Ferrer who was just on the clay last week! Nishikori has big Kevin Anderson while Ferrer gets Ryan Harrison.
And the women’s Acapulco suffered a major blow when superstar Maria Sharapova withdrew from her semifinal against Caroline Garcia due to a stomach virus. I can’t blame her. My stomach would also be upset if my partner lost that badly to Harrison.
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