Mubadala World Tennis Championship: Day 3 Preview

December 29, 2012 · Print This Article

by: Tom Cochrane

World number one Novak Djokovic will take on Spain’s Nicolas Almagro in the final of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event in Abu Dhabi on Saturday afternoon local time.

The Serbian star sent a clear message to the rest of the ATP Tour ahead of the 2013 season, easily outclassing Almagro’s compatriot David Ferrer in Friday’s opening semi-final. Coming off a career best season in 2012 and a fine win over Tomas Berdych in his opening match in Abu Dhabi on Thursday evening, Ferrer had hoped to fully test Djokovic after being humbled by the Serb in the final of the Abu Dhabi event last year. But Djokovic showed no signs of rust returning to the court after the off-season, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in just 17 minutes.  Ferrer fought valiantly to get on the board in the opening set but eventually succumbed to the infamous bagel, as Djokovic continually pinned the diminutive Spaniard behind the baseline and stepped into the court to dictate the play.

Generally unable to force the issue against Djokovic, Ferrer did receive one glimmer of hope early in the second set when a momentary loss of concentration from Djokovic, as indicated by a pair of double faults, handed the Spaniard the break and a 2-1 lead in the second set. But  in a flash Djokovic was once again firmly focused on the match and broke Ferrer twice in a row to take a 4-2 lead. With his serving game solid and his returning game sublime (Djokovic restricted Ferrer to a mere 52 percent success rate on his first serve points and a lowly 36 percent success rate on his second serve points) the Serb wrapped up the win in 70 minutes, 6-0 6-3. The 5-time Grand Slam champion has to be the red-hot favourite to claim a third consecutive Australian Open crown, especially now that Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the first Grand Slam of 2013.

Djokovic convinced his Serbian compatriot and good friend Janko Tipsarevic to play in Abu Dhabi this year, and for a while on Friday it appeared as if the pair would contest an all-Serbian final in the United Arab Emirates capital as Tipsarevic raced through the opening set against Nicolas Almagro, claiming it for the loss of just 2 games. Almagro seemed to have some difficulty adjusting to the pace of the court and the slightly blustery conditions in the first set, but the Spaniard, who was a late call-up to replace Nadal in the 6-man field in Abu Dhabi, kept pace with Tipsarevic in the second set and capitalised on some wayward shot selection from Tipsarevic in the second set tiebreaker to take it 7 points to 3.

The loss of the second set seemed to deflate Tipsarevic, as Almagro started to control the vast majority of the rallies, establishing a 5-1 lead thanks to some superb shotmaking off his backhand wing and several unforced errors from the Serb. Almagro eventually claimed a 2-6 7-6(3) 6-2 victory and will now have a chance to claim the US$250,000 “winner takes all” prizemoney in the final against Djokovic. Tipsarevic, meanwhile, will square off against Ferrer in Saturday’s opening match in a playoff for third place, in what should be another good opportunity for each player to improve his match play before the Australian Open. I’ll back the ultra-competitive Ferrer to see off the erratic Tipsarevic in straight sets.

Based on his form on Friday, one has to consider the world number one as a near certainty to claim a second successive trophy in Abu Dhabi. Like his countryman Ferrer, Almagro is a fine hard-court player but is more damaging on clay-courts. Also like Ferrer, I don’t think Almagro has a big enough artillery to truly bother Djokovic, and the world number 11 is not as good defensively as Ferrer (or Djokovic, for that matter) to boot. Let’s hope the Abu Dhabi crowd can witness an entertaining final, but I’m backing Djokovic to claim victory with a relatively straightforward 2 set victory.

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