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Federer fails to book Djokovic date in Dubai

ESPN staff
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Roger Federer was the defending champion in Dubai © AP
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Roger Federer failed to set up a showdown with Novak Djokovic in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship on Friday, losing to Tomas Berdych in three sets.

Federer, the defending champion and five-time winner of the Dubai event, failed once again to beat recent nemesis Berdych, who won 3-6 7-6(8) 6-4 to advance to the tournament showpiece. He will now face Djokovic, winner of a hat-trick of titles in Dubai between 2009 and 2011.

Berdych had won four of the past seven meetings against Federer, forcing the Swiss to admit his rival had a game that was "so big" that he can "determine the big moments". It was a prophesy that rang true the more the match progressed.

A first set that saw both men create break chances advanced to 3-4 on serve, before Federer made his move. Converting his fourth break chance of the set he moved to 5-3, serving out with ease as Berdych failed to find his range with his powerful groundstrokes.

The pair's overall head-to-head record read 11-5 in Federer's favour prior to Friday's meeting, but Berdych has enjoyed the better of their more recent contests and fought back in the second, capitalising on an unusual dip in Federer's serving standards. He broke to move 5-2 ahead, but then failed to seal the set as Federer broke back to level at 5-5.

Another break chance for Berdych - this time a set point - offered itself after Federer sent a forehand into the net, but the sixth seed sent a regulation forehand of his own wide as both men headed for a tiebreaker.

Federer drilled a brilliant forehand pass to claim an instant mini-break, before an ace set up two match points. Berdych fended off both to create a set point of his own at 7-6 in a tiebreaker that swung either way, with Federer letting another chance slip at 8-7 before the Czech eventually took it with a forehand winner to square the match.

Federer started the final set impressively with a couple of comfortable service holds, but was broken again as Berdych moved ahead for the first time in the match. Match points arrived as Federer served to stay in the tournament at 3-5, but Berdych eventually closed things out in the next game when the Swiss fired into the net.

"It feels really amazing," Berdych said. "It's really just about one single point that I was able to make better than him. For me, it was a celebration of tennis. I like to play him so much because of what he has achieved."

Top seed Djokovic overcame dogged resistance from fourth seed Juan Martin Del Potro to book his place in the final. Djokovic, looking to extend a winning streak that extends back to October, was threatened by the powerful Argentine on a few occasions during their contest, but avoided being dragged into an unwelcome third set as he claimed a second set tiebreak to win the match 6-3 7-6(4).

The Serbian roared out of the blocks in the first, showing great precision on his first serve to keep Del Potro on the backfoot. The Argentine was similarly impressive with his groundstrokes, but an erratic first serve - the former US Open champion managed to get just 50 per cent of his initial deliveries in play - gave Djokovic half-chances to snatch a break, and he took the first proper opening to seal the set.

The second stanza was an entirely different, far scrappier affair - with the two players splitting four breaks of serve between them as both seemed to step up the quality of their returns.

In the end it was somewhat inevitable the set would go to a tiebreak - but it was Djokovic who held his nerve, the Serbian grabbing an early mini-break and riding that all the way to the final.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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