Roger Federer rolled back the years to stun Novak Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Dubai Championship on Friday to claim his first victory in four meetings with the world No. 2.
Seventeen-time Grand Slam winner Federer predicted before the tournament that his best tennis was still to come, a suggestion that sounded far-fetched for a player who has slipped to eighth in the world, his lowest ranking since 2002.
From midway through the second set, the 32-year-old Swiss dominated Djokovic, who is still some way short of his 2011 peak when he won Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.
“There was a buzz out there tonight. I was fully able to enjoy myself,” Federer said in a courtside interview after setting up a final clash with Czech Tomas Berdych, who beat German Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5, 7-5.
“It’s never easy against Novak. Today I had a difficult start that put me on the back foot, but the crowd kept pushing me on. It’s a quick court, and I’m always going to play aggressively,” he said.
Djokovic, 26, went into the match having won nine of his previous 12 encounters with Federer.
The Swiss seized the opportunity to send a message to the tennis world that reports of his decline were premature.
“This is a big step in the right direction for me, gives me a lot of confidence,” Federer said.
Such a statement looked unlikely in the first set as Federer netted to give Djokovic a 2-0 lead.
Serving for the set at 5-3, the Serb hit a lazy forehand into the net, shrugging his shoulders in disappointment as the capacity 5,000 crowd roared Federer’s name.
That put the veteran 15-30 up, but he then clubbed a simple forehand into the net.
Federer saved two set points, the second after a prolonged rally that ended with him whipping a delicious lob and rushing to the net for a volleyed winner.
However, six-times Grand Slam champion Djokovic clinched the set with successive aces.
Serving at 2-2 in the second set, Federer’s sliced forehand drifted agonizingly long to give his opponent a break point.
Such was Djokovic’s dominance at that point that many in the crowd saw it as an effective match point and the Swiss rose to the occasion with a searing backhand pass.
“It’s the stuff that sometimes decides matches, and that’s where you just need extra confidence or extra mental belief that you’re going to win instead of losing,” Federer said.
He held serve before breaking for a 4-2 lead in a rain-interrupted game — the players leaving the court for only a few minutes — with a backhand bullet from the baseline.
Berdych’s victory over Kohlschreiber was his 11th straight win and took him through to a second successive Dubai final.
AP, SAO PAULO, Brazil
Top-seeded Tommy Haas came back to defeat Horacio Zeballos of Argentina 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 on Friday to advance to the Brazil Open semi-finals.
Haas broke Zeballos’ serve twice in a row in the decisive set to close the match and take a step closer to his second final of the year. The 12th-ranked German lost to Marin Cilic in the final in Croatia earlier this month.
Haas is to play Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, who reached his first ATP semi-final with an upset 7-6 (6), 6-7 (4), 6-4 win over fourth-seeded Juan Monaco of Argentina.
“Lorenzi has been around for a long time, so this is a goal I’m sure he has been waiting to achieve for a lifetime,” Haas said. “He has nothing to lose and is going to try to go one more and get to his first ATP tour final. He is a dangerous player. I’m going to have to try to play some of my best tennis.”