Roger Federer rolled back the years to stun Novak Djokovic 3-6 6-3 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Dubai Tennis Championship on Friday, his first victory in four meetings with the world number two.
Seventeen-times Grand Slam winner Federer predicted before the tournament that his best tennis was still to come, a suggestion that sounded far-fetched for a player who has slipped to eighth in the world, his lowest ranking since 2002.
From midway through the second set, however, the 32-year-old Swiss dominated Djokovic who is still some way short of his 2011 peak when he won Wimbledon, the US Open and Australian Open.
"There was a buzz out there tonight. I was fully able to enjoy myself," Federer said in a courtside interview after setting up a final clash with Czech Tomas Berdych who beat German Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5 7-5.
"It's never easy against Novak. Today I had a difficult start that put me on the back foot but the crowd kept pushing me on. It's a quick court and I'm always going to play aggressively."
Djokovic, 26, went into the match having won nine of his previous 12 encounters with Federer.
The Swiss, though, seized the opportunity to send a message to the tennis world that reports of his decline were premature.
"This is a big step in the right direction for me, gives me a lot of confidence," said Federer.
Such a statement looked unlikely in the first set as Federer netted to give Djokovic a 2-0 lead.
Serving for the set at 5-3, the Serb hit a lazy forehand into the net, shrugging his shoulders in disappointment as the capacity 5,000 crowd roared Federer's name.
That put the veteran 15-30 up but he then clubbed a simple forehand into the net.
Federer saved two set points, the second after a prolonged rally that ended with him whipping a delicious lob and rushing to the net for a volleyed winner.
But six-times Grand Slam champion Djokovic clinched the set with successive aces, rarely leaving the comfort of the baseline.
Serving at 2-2 in the second set, Federer's sliced forehand drifted agonisingly long to give his opponent a break point.
Such was Djokovic's dominance at that point that many in the crowd saw it as an effective match point and the Swiss rose to the occasion with a searing backhand pass.
"It's the stuff that sometimes decides matches and that's where you just need extra confidence or extra mental belief that you're going to win instead of losing," said Federer.
He held serve before breaking for a 4-2 lead in a rain-interrupted game - the players leaving the court for only a few minutes - with a backhand bullet from the baseline.
Five-times Dubai champion Federer secured the set with an ace as Djokovic's new coach Boris Becker looked on.
Earlier this week, the Serb said Becker's prime responsibility was to improve his mental toughness after having lost four grand slam finals, two to world number one Rafael Nadal and two to Britain's Andy Murray, in 15 months.
Djokovic's slide at the Aviation Stadium - he double-faulted in the first game of the final set to gift his opponent a crucial early break - implies his German coach has plenty of work to do.
"He played the second part of the match better, was more aggressive and played all round the court really well," said the world number two.
"I started making a lot of unforced errors in the second part of the second set, wasn't managing to move as well and he felt that was his opportunity."
Berdych's victory over Kohlschreiber was his 11th straight win and took him through to a second successive Dubai final.
THIRD SET: FEDERER 6 DJOKOVIC 2
Djokovic put a solid fight. He had two break points but Federer proved to be too strong as he wrapped the set and match in style. Djokovic 2 Federer 6
It looks to be all over for defending champion Djokovic. He holds on to his serve but has lots of work to do if he has to make a match of this semifinal clash. Djokovic 2 Federer 5
Federer is almost there. Dominating serves and he takes the game easily. Djokovic 1 Federer 5
BREAK! Double break for Federer. Djokovic struggles to hold on to his serve as Federer forces it into deuce. stunning shots from Federer and Djokovic had no answers. Djokovic 1 Federer 4
Federer is given a tough challenge from Djokovic but Federer holds on inching closer to the final. Djokovic 1 Federer 3
Leading 40-0, Djokovic seems to be out of sorts as Federer takes it to deuce. The Serb ensured no further damage was done with two impressive serves to take the game. Djokovic 1 Federer 2
Double break points for Djokovic. Two powerful serves, including an ace from Federer and it heads to deuce. Two classic points and Federer wins it.
Djokovic 0 Federer 2
BREAK! It's going to be a tight match for sure. Early break for Federer. The Swiss continues to close in to the net. Djokovic has to rejig his strategy. Unforced errors from the Serb and Federer has a break point. Djokovic hands over the game with a double fault. Djokovic 0 Federer 1
SECOND SET: FEDERER 6 DJOKOVIC 3
Federer is coming to the net quite often and he is benefitting heavily from it. Three set points and takes it with an ace. It's one-all and the battle begins now. Federer 6 Djokovic 3
Djokovic is not happy with the way things are unfolding. Gets aggressive with his shots as he seals the game not losing a point. Federer 5 Djokovic 3
Leading 30-0 Federer loses two crucial points to make it 30-all. vibrant serves and he holds on to his serve. Federer 5 Djokovic 2
BREAK! Triple break point for Federer in a game that was stopped for a while due to light shower. Djokovic got into the groove immediately to save two of them before Federer's lovely backhand shot to the baseline gets him the break. Federer 4 Djokovic 2
A sudden drizzle delays the proceedings at the Dubai Tennis Stadium. But it' looks like a passing shower.
Djokovic gave Federer a tough time. Some amazing tennis between the two as the Serb wins a break point before Federer hits a lovely backhand winner to save it and then win the game. Federer 3 Djokovic 2
Djokovic had a few unforced errors but recovered quickly to wrap the game and hold on to his serve. Federer 2 Djokovic 2
Powerful serves from the Swiss. Loses two points on his way to seal the game but he has been dominant. Federer 2 Djokovic 1
Djokovic responds with equal intensity to take his first game of the second set. Federer 1 Djokovic 1
Dominating start to the second set by Federer. Holds his game easily. Federer 1 Djokovic 0
FIRST SET: DJOKOVIC 6 FEDERER 3
Djokovic seals the game and the first set. Federer did put a strong fight to lead 15-30 but Djokovic held his composure to win the next two points. Federer got the crucial point taking it to deuce. A great rally followed dominated by Federer before Djokovic wins two important points. Djokovic 6 Federer 3
Another game dominated by some powerful serves as Federer wraps it easily. Djokovic 5 Federer 3
Four brilliant points for Djokovic, including an ace was sufficient to hold on to his serve. But he also got his first double fault. Djokovic 5 Federer 2
Federer wins the game but not before Djokovic gave him a tough time for a brief while taking the game to deuce. Djokovic 4 Federer 2
It's a tough game for Djokovic but he holds his nerve to pull it off. Federer suddenly seemed to have stepped up his game. Some brilliant forehands as he goes 0-30 before Djokovic takes three points to make it 40-30. A shot into the net from the Serb and it's deuce. Djokovic 4 Federer 1
Amazing serves from Federer. Doesn't drop a point on his way to win the game. Djokovic 3 Federer 1
Djokovic looks to be super confident here. Hardly drops a sweat to hold on to his second service game. Djokovic 3 Federer 0
BREAK! Djokovic dominates early on as he breaks Federer to lead 2-0. Federer was 15-40 to give Djokovic two break points and he won in the first. Djokovic 2 Federer 0
Djokovic holds on to his serve. Interesting rally there before the Serb wins it easily. Djokovic 1 Federer 0
The stadium is packed to capcity as the two stars - Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic - arrive at the centre court.
Czech star Tomas Berdych defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in straight sets to enter the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Kohlschreiber made a perfect start breaking Berdych in the opening game of the match and then holding on to his next three service games. But at 5-3 down Berdych played superbly to break the German twice in a row to take the first set 7-5.
Berdych and Kohlschriber won their games before the Czech broke him at the end to win 7-5.
SECOND SET: BERDYCH 7 KOHLSCHREIBER 5
Two match points for Berdych and he seals it in style with the second one. A good effort from the German but not enough to beat Berdych. Berdych 7 Kohlschreiber 5.
Berdych hardly wastes any time before sealing of the game. His last serve was 211kmph. A cruical game for him here. Berdych 6 Kohlschreiber 5
Kohlschreiber holds on to his serve. This is turning to be an interesting battle. Berdych 5 Kohlschreiber 5
Another easy game for Berdych but not before Kohlschrieber displayed a stunning forehand winner. Berdych is just one game away from winning the match. Berdych 5 Kohlschreiber 4
Both of them have managed to hold on to their serves so far in the second set. Kohlschreiber does it easily this time too. Berdych 4 Kohlschreiber 4
Leading 40-0, Berdych looked to be losing focus as Kohlschreiber tries catching up winning two points before the Czech takes it at the right time.
Berdych 4 Kohlschreiber 3
Kohlschreiber seals his game without losing much sweat. Berdych 3 Kohlschreiber 3
Three massive serves from Berdych as he wins the game from a 15-30 to lead the second set. Berdych 3 Kohlschreiber 2
Things not going the way Kohlschreiber wants it as Berdych forces the game to deuce. But Kohlschreiber manages to save a break point to hold on to his serve. Berdych 2 Kohlschreiber 2
Berdych retains his serve. He is cruising comfortably here. Berdych 2 Kohlschreiber 1
It looks like Kohlschreiber had not won a game for ages. Finally after five successive losses, the German holds his serve. Berdych 1 Kohlschreiber 1
Berdych continues his dominance. Takes the first game not before some stiff resistance from Kohlschreiber who took the game to deuce. Berdych 1 Kohlschreiber 0
FIRST SET: BERDYCH 7 KOHLSCHREIBER 5
BREAK! That's Berdych special. Fights from a break down to grab four games in a row to seal the first set. Had two break points before winning the second one. First set to Berdych. Berdych 7 Kohlschreiber 5
Berdych is gaining momentum here. He is easily on the top of his game. Seals the game without dropping a point to win three games in a row. Berdych 6 Kohlschreiber 5
BREAK! Berdych had double break point. Misses the first one but takes the second to level the game. Some stunning shots from Berdych and the German has no answer. The battle turns interesting. Berdych 5 Kohlschreiber 5
Another easy game for Berdych. But the next game will be crucial if he has to save the first set. Berdych 4 Kohlschreiber 5
Kohlschreiber manages to hold on to his break. He wins his game without much fuss as he is just one game away from winning the set. Berdych 3 Kohlschreiber 5
Berdych has been serving well. His second ace as he wraps the game without losing a point. Berdych 3 Kohlschreiber 4
Another good game for Kohlschreiber. The German is ensuring he holds on to his serve. He lost two points but still that should not worry him. Berdych 2 Kohlschreiber 4
Some lovely winners from Berdych. Wins the game easily ending with an ace, the first one of the match. Berdych 2 Kohlschreiber 3
Kohlschreiber is looking very dominant in his serves. Not giving any room to Berdych as he wraps the game without dropping a point. Berdych 1 Kohlschreiber 3
Berdych looks to be warming up there. Some confident shots. Holds on to his serve. Berdych 1 Kohlschreiber 2
Kohlschreiber holds on to his serve quite comfortably. Not much of a rally there. It's a sluggish start for Berdych. Berdych 0 Kohlschreiber 2
BREAK! Berdych gets a double fault in the very first game and Kohlschreiber gets a double break. He wins the first one to force a break early on. Berdych 0 Kohlschreiber 1
Both Berdych and Kohlschreiber are in the centre court as they prepare for the toss and warm up. A lovely evening at the Dubai Tennis Stadium as the spectators gallery is slowly filling up.
Top seed Novak Djokovic and five-time champion Roger Federer will clash in the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday.
Djokovic was denied his 550th ATP World Tour win when two-time Dubai finalist Mikhail Youzhny withdrew with illness, giving the defending champion a walkover into the semifinals, while Federer earned his 40th win in Dubai with a comfortable 6-2 6-2 victory over Lukas Rosol.
The other semifinal will be between third seed Tomas Berdych, who overcame a strong challenge from fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win 6-4 6-3, and seventh seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, who claimed his 300th ATP World Tour singles victory 6-2 6-3 to end the run of wild card Malek Jaziri.
Federer dropped the opening two games but then enjoyed a trouble-free match to set him up for an intriguing semifinal. The ease of the match was a relief after his struggle on Wednesday against Radek Stepanek.
“Before walking out I was like, ‘I'm happy I am here still alive today’,” said Federer. “I fought hard yesterday. The matches, sometimes you have to come through to end up sometimes winning the tournament, you know. So for me, here I am all of a sudden, instead of losing second round I'm in the semis playing Novak.
“I'm looking forward to the match. You know, one match, best-of-three sets on a court like this, it's a bit of let's see what happens, anyway. We both know that, and I'm looking forward to the match.”
Berdych was stretched by Tsonga, who began well by giving up just one point in his first three service games but then faltered and opened the door for the 2013 Dubai runner-up. Although Berdych failed to earn a break point to lead 5-3, he broke Tsonga’s serve to love in the final game of the set.
There were numerous break point opportunities for both players in the second set, with Berdych saving all five that he faced before Tsonga crucially produced a double-fault to give Berdych a 5-3 lead.
“It was very close,” said Berdych. “Especially the second set was very tight, very close. I faced many break points I think two games in a row in my serve, which was very tough, but I think that was really the key of today's game, that I managed to save that. And then when I got a chance in the end of the second set I got a bit lucky, that's true, on that break point when Jo helped me.”
The tournament now features a mouth-watering showdown between two players who have won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in nine of the last 11 years.
“It is the semifinal we have been hoping and waiting for,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free. “It is impossible to predict who will come out on top in the meeting between two of the greatest competitors to have played the game in the last 10 years. They have met 31 times before, and their record could not be closer with Federer claiming 16 wins and Djokovic 15.”
“We enjoyed two outstanding semifinals tonight,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Tomas Berdych has been in tremendous form this year, reaching the Australian Open semifinals and winning recently in Rotterdam, but he had to produce his very best tennis to overcome Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is also in top form as demonstrated by his run to the Marseille final last week.
“Roger Federer also responded positively to his difficult match on Wednesday, and his semifinal against our defending champion will be one to savour.”
Play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is owned and operated by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, continues until Saturday March 1.
For further information about tickets, prices and the tournament visit www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com or phone the call centre on +971 44172415.
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