Dubai Championships: Berdych powers past Federer; Djokovic unstoppable
Tomas Berdych saved three match points and shattered any hopes of a dream final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic when he battled through for a fantastic come from behind victory over the Swiss superstar. Berdych, who many have accused of possessing a fickle mind, introduced his critics to an hitherto unseen version of the Czech in a match that might signal the coming of age of the powerfully endowed player. Berdych lost the first set rather tamely but fought back brilliantly to take the match into a third set before overpowering Federer for a 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 victory in two hours and 21 minutes of power packed Tennis. Djokovic was challenged severely by Juan Martin Del Potro, particularly in the second set of their semi-final encounter but the world No. 1 proved far too stubborn to be derailed by the Argentine. Djokovic had all the answers to the probing questions posed of him as he coasted to a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory to reach the finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Federer got off the blocks in a tearing hurry over Berdych – an ace to begin the game and a searing forehand to close it got the match away to a roaring start. The Swiss legend has been guilty of attacking the net too often this week and Berdych used his irrepressible power to leave Federer rushed or a step short each time he ran forward. Federer’s intelligence came to the fore as he saved a couple of break points in the third game using his second serve with decisive effectiveness – a kick serve to the backhand and another into the body saving him the early blushes.
The fourth game presented Federer three opportunities to seize control of the set, but Berdych was equal to the task on each occasion as he held his opponent at bay with some blistering serves that helped stave off the break. The Czech could not keep the Swiss under check for too long. The critical eighth game turned decisive in the context of the first set. Berdych double faulted at 40-30 to allow Federer a sniff at an important juncture. The Czech gifted the vital break when he dumped a routine backhand in the net to leave the Swiss serving for the set. Roger reeled off his sixth straight point with a second serve ace to close out the set in 39 minutes.
The match took an Orwellian twist in the sixth game when Federer self-destructed without notice to send the packed stadium into a stunned silence. Roger’s timing and rhythm left him abruptly – as he sent in a double fault before generously wrapping the gift for Berdych with two straight forehand errors. Berdych took his fortune for a nice ride as he built up a comfortable 5-2 lead in the second set. But as they say, only genius knows what genius does and Federer sprung back to life just as suddenly as he went AWOL midway through the second set. With Berdych serving to take the match into the decider, Federer went on a belligerent attack with his sublime forehand and when a wilting Berdych dumped a forehand at the bottom of the net, the set was back on serve.
The danger was dealt with and Federer responded by serving two straight aces before taking the next game at love – his first of the match in a breezy minute and 22 seconds. A mesmerising backhand up the line winner paved way for two more break points to the Swiss in the eleventh game. While Berdych saved the first one with a commendable display of desperate defence, the paint on the line helped him alter the bounce and save the second. Federer though wasn’t about to let the momentum slip away – a fiercely struck forehand forced the error from the Czech to bring up a third opportunity. The Czech needed a service winner to save that one before holding serve to force Federer to serve out and force the tie-break.
The situation was tense and Berdych was in an attacking mood. The combination yielded the Czech a set point, but luck favoured the Swiss when the linesman failed to call one that was clearly out. Unfortunately, Berdych chose to continue play without challenging and Federer held on to push the set into a breaker. A terse forehand pass from Federer earned him the first mini-break, but Berdych won three in a row to cancel the advantage. An outstanding reflex volley winner helped the Czech snare the lead at 4-2. Federer responded in kind with a forehand volley winner to restore parity at 4-4.
The match swung to Federer’s racket when Berdych dumped a backhand in the net and the seventh ace of the match gave the Swiss two match points. But they went begging and the set hung in the balance at 6-6, before a second serve into the body of Federer allowed Berdych his second set point. Federer found space on the deuce court to save it before a service winner down the middle earned him a third match point at 8-7. A big serve from Berdych kept the men glued to the court and it felt like a just reward for his persistence when the Czech took the second set with a scorching forehand return winner to end the wildly fluctuating tie-break at 10-8.
The first break points of the final set fell to Berdych as a weary looking Federer slipped to 15-40 in the fifth game. Roger saved the first with an ace, but a flailing error on the next point allowed the Czech complete control over the destiny of the match. At 0-30 in the seventh game, Federer seemed ready to pack his Wilson in but egged on by the vociferous crowd he somehow mustered enough energy to hold serve and stay within touch at 3-4. In the next game, it was Berdych’s turn to defend from 0-30 but the Czech had too much fire power to be seriously troubled by the Swiss maestro.
At 30-30 in the ninth game, Federer was only hanging to the contest by a thread. But spurred on by the outpouring of warmth from the packed stands, Federer survived four deuces to hold on and force his opponent to serve out to win the match. Berdych did that confidently to reach his first finals in Dubai with a celebratory fist pump that signalled his joy at his ability to finally take control of his rivalry with the great Swiss star. Berdych has now won five of their last eight meetings including that victory at the US Open last year.
Earlier in the evening, the world No. 1 overcame a spirited challenge from Del Potro to give himself an opportunity to win the 36th title of his flourishing career. The Serbian was dominant in the first set taking the only break point of the set in the sixth game before clinching the set in 37 minutes. Del Potro picked up the pieces in the second, as he tried to bite into the match. The Argentine looked set to trouble the Serbian in the second set even as he built a 3-0 lead with a break in the second game.
Del Potro though could not keep the Serbian pinned to the mat as Djokovic bounced back emphatically by breaking the Argentine twice in a row to take a 5-3 lead. Serving to stay in the match, Del Potro saved a match point in the ninth game before managing to prevent Djokovic from serving for the match in the tenth game. Playing with steadfast determination, Del Potro forced a tie-break to give himself a chance to make a meaningful impact on the contest. The breaker stayed on serve till the Serbian moved in to take the mini-break at 5-3.
After that it was just a matter of time before Djokovic finally sealed victory by taking the breaker 7-4 and reach the finals of this ultra rich tournament. The Argentine paid a hefty price for choosing to live too much in his Ad-court as Djokovic punished him repeatedly with an impressive range of backhand strokes. Besides, Djokovic lost a miserly 18 points off his serve whilst Del Potro lost that many just off his first serve and try as he did, the Argentine fell short of an effective answer to the tenacious brilliance of the Serbian world beater.
Bhupathi through to doubles finals
Mahesh Bhupathi and Michael Llodra survived a stiff battle against Rohan Bopanna and Rajeev Ram as they reached the finals of the doubles event with a 6-3, 6-7(2), 10-5 victory. A win in the finals over Robert Lindstedt and Nenad Zimonjic, the third seeds will give Bhupathi a fifth title in the Middle Eastern desert with as many partners. The Indian won his first Dubai title with Leander Paes in 1998, before following up with victories alongside Fabrice Santoro (2004), Mark Knowles (2008) and Bopanna last year.
(1) N Djokovic defeats (4) J Del Potro 63 76(4)
(3) T Berdych defeats (2) R Federer 36 76(8) 64
M Bhupathi / M Llodra defeats R Bopanna / R Ram 63 67(2) 10-5
(3) R Lindstedt / N Zimonjic defeats J Erlich / M Youzhny 76(2) 76(2)