Djokovic, Nadal set Doha duel

AFP-JIJI, Reuters

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet for the 47th time and play their 24th final against each other after both won their Qatar Open semifinals on Friday.

World No. 1 Djokovic progressed through to Saturday’s final after overcoming Tomas Berdych in a bruising encounter, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).

Nadal also won in two sets but in a more straightforward fashion, beating Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko 6-3, 6-4 in little over an hour.

“I guess it’s a pretty important match tomorrow, let’s see what happens,” said Djokovic.

“It’s a final so you fight for the trophy.” he added.

“And knowing that across the net you have the player that you played against the most ever in your career adds more importance to that final.”

Saturday’s match will reignite one of the greatest rivalries in modern tennis.

Of the 23 finals they have contested so far, Djokovic has a slight advantage winning 13. They have faced each other in the final of all four Grand Slams.

Saturday’s final will also be the 99th of Nadal’s career and Djokovic’s 16th consecutive ATP final.

Head-to-head in all matches, the pair have each won 23.

Djokovic was made to work for his victory against the third-seeded Berdych and a lesser player may have succumbed to the Czech.

The Serb, who had beaten Berdych in 21 of their previous 23 encounters, lost his very first serve and then faced another break point to go 1-4 down.

However, he held his serve and then won the next four games in typical fashion to take the first set.

Any notion that Berdych might then roll over in the second set soon faded as the pair held serve, treating fans to high-quality tennis throughout.

Djokovic was relentless in the tiebreak, breaking Berdych’s first serve and ended up prevailing in the decider 7-3.

It means Djokovic still has yet to drop a set all week in four matches.

Afterward he admitted he had a slight concern over an arm injury which has required attention from a physio but added that he didn’t think “it’s a major concern.”

Nadal, meanwhile, who endured a miserable 2015, showed he could be returning to form with his most impressive performance of the week, winning 6-3, 6-4 against Marchenko.

“To be back in a final is always a great feeling, especially the first week of the season,” said the Spaniard.

He added: “For sure it’s important for me for my confidence, confirm that the end of 2015 season had been something realistic and this beginning of 2016 I am still playing well, so I’m able to already win four matches here and be in the final.”

Nadal’s serve dominated throughout against the player who knocked out the reigning champion and fourth seed David Ferrer in the first round.

Nadal won 100 percent of his first service points in the opening set, 89 percent overall, and allowed only one break point, which he held.

He also fired six aces and hit 16 winners.

Marchenko, the world No. 94, was by no means disgraced in his first career match against Nadal.

Prior to this tournament, he had never taken a set off a top 10 player, but as well as beating Ferrer, the amiable Ukrainian also saw off France’s Jeremy Chardy and Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili, both well above him in the ATP world rankings.

He may be consoled by one of the biggest pay days of his career, earning $57,380.

In Brisbane, Australia, defending champion Roger Federer will meet big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the final of the Brisbane International after the Swiss top seed dismantled rising Austrian talent Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-4 on Saturday.

Federer left his opponent and the center court crowd stunned as he charged to a 5-0 lead Pat Rafter Arena before encountering stiffer resistance from his 22-year-old opponent as the match progressed at the Australian Open warmup.

The youngest player in the top 20, Thiem shrugged off the first set horror show to unleash some exquisite backhand winners in the second that had the Swiss master nodding approval.

Federer’s serve was bulletproof during the clutch moments, however, and the world No. 3 closed out the contest with a booming ace on his second match point.

Federer, who will be competing in his third consecutive Brisbane final, and is one victory away from an 89th ATP title, hailed his “best match” of the tournament.

“I really thought I hit the ball very well,” the evergreen 34-year-old, lathered in sweat from the muggy Brisbane heat, said in a courtside interview.

“I’m very excited to be back in the final again. . . . It’s a great start to the season and I’m very happy.”

Raonic had earlier won a battle of big servers to down local contender Bernard Tomic 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) in the first semifinal.