Brilliant Federer defeats Djokovic to reach Dubai final

Roger Federer will bid for a sixth title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday after claiming a thrilling 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over defending champion Novak Djokovic in one hour and 46 minutes. Federer was hyper aggressive, hitting his backhand with conviction and backing up big serves with a lot of net approaches.

He will face Tomas Berdych, who reached his second straight Dubai final with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Federer, who had not beaten Djokovic since the final of the 2012 Cincinnati Open, denied Djokovic the 550th match win of his career. Federer now leads Djokovic 17-15 in their Head to Head series.

The opening set between Federer and Djokovic was as close as it could get, with Djokovic making the better start by breaking Federer in the second game but then having to fight off a break point against him when up 3-1. Djokovic then had an opportunity to take charge when he held a break point to lead 3-2 in the second set, but Federer held off the threat and then earned his first break of the match to lead 4-2.

Federer increasingly looked the stronger player from then on. He led 1-0 in the final set when Djokovic doubled-faulted, saved a break point in the next game and then broke again in a lengthy fifth game to lead 4-1. In a final act of defiance Djokovic held two break points as Federer served for victory, but Federer held on to claim the match.

"It's nice to be in the finals here in Dubai again. I think I was able to play a bit more aggressively as the match went on," said Federer. "He got the crucial first break, which is always big when top guys play each other, and he's better than anybody with the lead. So I knew I was in a bit of trouble after the first set and not looking good at all, because he has a tendency to really run with it and play more freely on your serve. He plays very dangerous.

"It was just a matter of trying to play consistent but remain aggressive. Sometimes being also overly aggressive to see if it works. If it doesn't, then you can always pull back a little bit. Clearly it was close, but I think I got the right balance, just the right balance. Then I started to serve very well, something I haven't been able to do really this week yet. I knew to have a chance today I needed to serve well. So I'm just very happy I was able to deliver that."

The sell-out crowd were noisy in their appreciation of both players, and Federer soaked up the atmosphere.

"I think it was a very enthusiastic crowd, polite crowd, and it was a dream playing in an atmosphere like this," he said. "I mean, they were already trying to create a Mexican wave sort of five games in. I don't know if that was because Novak was leading or it tried to pump me up. But anyway, I thought it was a great atmosphere out here tonight and I hope for something similar tomorrow."

Djokovic admitted that Federer had been the better player in the latter part of the match and that he deserved his victory.

"Well, great to him for coming back in the match. Congratulations," said Djokovic. "I lost to roger, it's not a bad loss. He deserved to win. He played in the second part of the match better and was more aggressive and played all around the court really well."

Later the 32-year-old was asked when he might be back to his best again, after a difficult 2013.

"I hope it's now," he said. "It's all happening. Beating Novak on the hard courts here in Dubai, it's tough. This is a big step in the right direction for me. It gives me a lot of confidence."

Berdych enters the final on a 11-match winning streak. He arrived in Dubai having won his first title in over a year at Rotterdam two weeks ago.

''I think he's playing very well right now,'' Federer said. ''This is a big match for him tomorrow as well. I will try to stop him and play a good match myself.''

The Basel native began working with Stefan Edberg as his coach at the start of the season, as well as using a larger racquet head. The changes saw him reach the Brisbane final and the Australian Open semi-finals and have given back to Federer some of the belief in himself he felt he was lacking on the big points in matches.

"The close moments sometimes that decide matches, that's where you just need that extra confidence or that extra mental belief that you're going to win instead of lose. I think that's what I've got back right now. That's why I think I have been playing consistently well for some months again.

Physically I'm doing very well again, still holding up perfectly, and clearly it's been a lot of tennis now again this week. I just hope I can finish it well tomorrow."

Federer has not been joined in Dubai by Edberg this week and said they did no more than exchange text messages in the lead up to the semi-final. Federer is accompanied this week by Swiss Davis Cup coach, Severin Luthi.

"I would like to focus on the work with Stefan," explained Federer. "In three days I will see him. He will be in Indian Wells, and that's what I'm looking forward to. When I'm with him, I'm really with him. When I'm away from him, I want him to enjoy his life.

"So I'm sure this victory makes him very happy. I hope he likes what he sees. From my standpoint, I'm just very happy things are working out with Stefan and Severin and everybody involved and that my results remain positive, which is important right now at the beginning of the season."

Date: 28th February 2014, Source: ATP and Dubai


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