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Almagro to clash with Djokovic in the desert finale

Anand Datla
FEATURED COLUMNIST
646   //    28 Dec 2012, 23:50 IST

Novak Djokovic of Serbia talks with Nico

Even as the wires were getting burnt with the unexpected news of Rafael Nadal‘s withdrawal from the Australian Open, his compatriot Nicolas Almagro left no stone unturned to ensure that he made the most of his good fortune. The world No. 11 was a last minute replacement for Nadal, but he showed no signs of rust as he dusted off Janko Tipsarevic, 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-2 to reach the finals of the Mubadala Tennis Championship. Almagro will square off against Novak Djokovic in the finals for a winner take all paycheck of $250,000. The Serbian had turned on a 6-0, 6-3 sand storm to blow away David Ferrer earlier in the day.

On a day when the weather seemed to be favouring the Serbians, it was in fact Tipsarevic who got off the blocks in a jiffy, breaking Almagro at 15 to grab the initiative. The Serbian survived a typically Spanish response by surviving a twelve point duel in the next game to consolidate the break. Pushed to the back foot, Almagro took advantage of his defensive instincts to remain within striking distance of the Serbian. But push as he may, Tipsarevic held his ground before cleaning up the set with a burst at the finish line. He drew the Spaniard to the net to invite the fumble and help himself to a second break before clinching the lead with a service winner.

Almagro needed three aces to hold his ground in a tightly contested first game of the second set, and despite the lopsided score in the first set it was obvious that both men were willing to pitch tent and duel hard for supremacy. Tipsarevic pressed heavily for a break in the seventh game, but Almagro had enough firepower to nose ahead to 4-3 with an uncharacteristic forehand volley winner followed by a service winner down the middle. As the men squabbled intensely, the set rolled over into a tie-breaker. It was Almagro who made the first move, when a rasping forehand cross-court winner helped him to a handy 4-1 lead. While Tipsarevic saved the first set point with a scorching forehand down the line winner, he failed to keep the ball in play on the next point to push the set into a decisive final set.

Having wrestled back the edge, Almagro proved an different force altogether, as he laid the marker with a 2-0 start in the final set. Almagro finally stamped his authority over the match when he broke Tipsarevic at love to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Two breaks to the good, the Spaniard completed a clinical finish when he set up his first match point with an ace and followed through with the service winner into the body of his opponent to end the match. The Serbian though can take heart from the 6-3, 6-4 defeat he handed Andy Murray on Thursday to reach the semi-finals.

In the finals on Saturday, Almagro will have his task cut out for him. It will be another Serbian across the net, but a much more harder challenge at that. If Djokovic continues where he left off this evening, it is difficult to see how the Spaniard can pose a real challenge. Almagro has never taken a set off the Serbian in their three previous meetings – the last of which ended in a 3-6, 4-6 defeat for the Spaniard in Indian Wells earlier this year.

Djokovic was full of confidence, saying: “I am surprised with my game considering it’s the first match of the official season. Hopefully I can play another good one tomorrow.”

Almagro is aware of the coming onslaught, so he was left pleading with the fans.

“Please support me tomorrow because I am going to need it,” concluded the Spaniard.

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Anand Datla
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Sport and character are the cornerstone of life. A middle aged writer with a child like love and passion for sport and its bottomless treasure of tales.
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