Novak Djokovic extended his winning streak to 18 matches to claim a fourth Dubai Championships in five years on Saturday, underlining his status as the world’s best player after beating Tomas Berdych 7-5 6-3 in the final.
The Serb is unbeaten since October, did not drop a set in Dubai and has now won all 13 matches he has played against top-10 opponents since Andy Murray defeated him in last year’s US Open final.
Ultimately, the 25-year-old won because he took his chances, converting three break points out of four, while Berdych only managed to make one of his five count.
Yet it was the Czech who started the stronger, as the world No. 6 dropped only four points in his opening three services games.
Berdych also made the first break of the final, bypassing an onrushing Djokovic with a running lob winner into the corner for a 3-2 lead.
Djokovic responded with a change of tactics, retreating to the baseline as he dug in against the Berdych onslaught.
The Serb looked anguished after a cross-court backhand drifted long, his shoulders drooping to reveal just what a struggle he had in putting any pressure on Berdych.
However, the Czech — who was initially so at ease on serve — eventually wilted under the power, precision and variety of his opponent’s ground strokes.
Berdych missed an easy volley from mid-court that would have delivered a 5-3 lead and then repeated the blunder moments later to give Djokovic a break back for 4-4.
“I was giving him too much time to control the points — that resulted with a break down,” Djokovic told reporters.
“I fight and believe I can come back — that’s something that can eventually decide the winner in these kinds of matches, just hanging in there, waiting for your chance and then going for it,” he said.
Berdych could have made immediate amends, but missed three break points in the next game to reveal a weakness around the net.
At 6-5 behind, Berdych double-faulted to gift Djokovic the set.
“I had a break, but playing with the best returning guy on tour, it’s an advantage but not something really huge,” Berdych said.
Djokovic was rarely troubled in the second set and needed only one chance to take a decisive 5-3 lead, clinching the title with a flat forehand into the corner
AFP, ACAPULCO, Mexico
Rafael Nadal destroyed compatriot David Ferrer to win the Mexican Open on Saturday, losing just two games as he claimed his second title in three events since returning from a lengthy injury layoff.
The former world No. 1 routed reigning three-time champion Ferrer 6-0, 6-2.
Since returning from a seven-month absence with a left knee injury last month, Nadal has won 12 of his 13 matches.
“I have had some difficult months, especially during my time away from tennis, but I take with me fond memories of returning to Acapulco,” Nadal said.
“I feel good being back on court,” the Spaniard said. “I have to thank my family and everyone involved in my rehabilitation. It has been a difficult time over the last few months.”
The 11-time Grand Slam winner needed just 65 minutes to clinch his 52nd ATP Tour title, serving brilliantly throughout.
In the women’s final, Italian top seed Sara Errani breezed past second seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-0, 6-4.
AFP, DELRAY BEACH, Florida
Latvian Ernests Gulbis beat Tommy Haas 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/2) on Saturday to book a berth in the final of the Delray Beach International Championships against Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
In a matchup of past Delray Beach champions, German second seed Haas squandered three break points in the 11th game of the third set.
Gulbis won the last five points to hold for a 6-5 lead, then won six of the last seven points in the tiebreaker.
France’s Roger-Vasselin upset US top seed John Isner 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the other semi-final.
Gulbis, ranked 109th in the world, is seeking his third ATP title at the same event where he won his first tour crown in 2010.
Former world No. 2 Haas was denied a chance at a 14th career title at the same event where he won the 2006 crown.
Roger-Vasselin finished with four aces and three double faults, winning 63 percent of his second-serve points against the American.
BRAZIL TENNIS CUP
AP, FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil
Monica Niculescu of Romania defeated Olga Puchkova of Russia 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the final of the Brazil Tennis Cup to win her first WTA title on Saturday.
The 75th-ranked Romanian broke Puchkova’s serve to go up 5-4 in the final set, then converted on her service game to close out the match in 1 hour, 59 minutes.
“It’s unbelievable,” Niculescu said. “This means a lot, I was so nervous and wanted to win this so much. My game was not brilliant today, but it shows that in tennis if you keep fighting you can manage to win.”