Novak Djokovic’s bid to close the gap on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the top of the world rankings carried him to the semi-finals of the Dubai Open after a 6-3, 6-4 win over Marin Cilic on Thursday.
But third seed Andy Murray, who began the year as favorite to win the first Grand Slam of the year, was forced to withdraw from the tournament with a virus.
Former Australian Open champion Djokovic had struggled in his previous match against the Czech Jan Hernych, but the Serbian played more solidly during his victory against Croatia’s Cilic, who has broken into the top 20 for the first time this year.
“I am very happy that my performance was much better than in the previous two days, but I was lucky to get through some service games,” said Djokovic, referring to the fact that he was 15-40 down while closing out the first set and twice break-point down before reaching 5-3 in the second.
“Here at Dubai, I always feel at home,” he added, before paying tribute to his next opponent, Gilles Simon, who he said is “consistent and solid from both sides.”
Frenchman Simon, the third seed, earned the chance to reach the eighth final of his career by ending the long and, at times, remarkable record of his compatriot Fabrice Santoro at this tournament.
Simon’s 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 victory over the 36-year-old crowd favorite carried him to the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, Murray admitted that he has been hindered by illness ever since the Australian Open.
The world No. 4 from Britain has the best record on the men’s tour this year with 15 wins from 16 matches, but suddenly the future is looking uncertain after the revelations about his long-term medical condition.
Murray began to feel worse after his impressive straight-sets second-round win over Arnaud Clement on Wednesday.
“I woke up in the middle of the night sweating,” Murray said. “I went to the doctor and started taking antibiotics, but I have felt very tired all week. I have felt cold and shivery and had a sore throat, I feel that my temperature is up and my body feels bad.”
The worry is that Murray is developing a form of mononucleosis (glandular fever), something that hit Federer last year and contributed to Justine Henin’s retirement.
“I’ve had a blood test and I’ve had antibiotics before for five or six days,” Murray said.
Murray’s withdrawal meant that another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, received a walk-over into a semi-final against David Ferrer of Spain.
AP, DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA
Top-seeded Mardy Fish reached the Delray Beach International quarter-finals with his easiest win yet over fellow American Vince Spadea 6-4, 6-1 on Thursday.
Fish will next meet sixth-seeded Florent Serra of France, who overcame Mischa Zverev of Germany for the first time, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
Seventh-seeded Jeremy Chardy of France reached his third quarter-final of the year with a 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 win over Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan.
Chardy, who reached his first career final in Johannesburg this month, will face former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis in the quarter-finals. Baghdatis outlasted close childhood friend, Dudi Sela of Israel, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
AP, ACAPULCO, MEXICO
Jose Acasuso broke Tommy Robredo at the end of both sets to win their fourth clash in four weeks 7-5, 6-2 in the Mexican Open quarter-finals on Thursday.