World No. 1, Novak Djokovic seeks his fifth Dubai title when he faces Greek young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final on Saturday.
Djokovic vs Tsitsipas is live from Dubai on Saturday, 29 February from 7:00pm local time/ 3:00pm GMT
Djokovic and Tsitsipas came through contrasting semi-finals on Friday, with Djokovic saving three match points in a dramatic three-set victory over Gael Monfils, while Tsitsipas was rarely troubled in a 6-2 6-3 win over Great Britain’s Daniel Evans.
For Djokovic, this will be his sixth Dubai final, while Tsitsipas is contesting the championship match at the ATP 500 tournament for the second straight year. The Greek will hope to go one step better than 2019, when he was beaten by Roger Federer in the final.
It has been a perfect start to the season for Djokovic, who has now won all of his 17 matches this year, but he faced arguably the sternest challenge to that unbeaten start to the year against Monfils on Friday. Third seed, Monfils went into the match with a 0-16 head-to-head record against Djokovic, but he made a confident start on Friday, dominating an erratic Djokovic in the opening set.
The Frenchman moved closer to his first win over Djokovic when he opened up a 3-1 lead in the second set, but the four-time champion broke back for 3-3, and pushed hard for parity towards the end of the set. Monfils did well to fend off five set points set points across his final two service games, and he looked to have finally found the solution to the Djokovic puzzle when he opened up a 6-3 lead in the tie break.
However, Djokovic has carved a career out of salvaging seemingly lost causes, and the great Serbian added another one to his fine collection, saving all three match points to somehow keep himself alive. The tie break dragged on until Monfils sent down a double fault at 8-9 to gift Djokovic a dramatic set on an eighth set point.
From there, there was going to be only one winner. Djokovic dominated the final set to complete a 2-6 7-6 6-1 victory.
“It’s like being on the edge of a cliff,” said Djokovic about facing match points. “You know there is no way back so you have to jump over and try to find a way to survive I guess and pray for the best and believe that you can make it, that there is something that is going to help you”.
“That’s one of the things that I feel at the moment. Okay, one point away, one shot away. There is no going back. This is it. I accept the situation and try to make the most out of it.”
Djokovic’s 17-0 start to the season includes a 6-0 run in singles matches at the ATP Cup, where he spearheaded Serbia to the title, an eighth Australian Open triumph, and now a run to a sixth Dubai final. He had made a serene start to the tournament, dropping just ten games across straight-sets victories over Malek Jaziri, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Karen Khachanov, but he was pushed to the brink by Monfils, before emerging with his 40th win in 46 matches at the tournament.
Can he claim a fifth title by taking down Tsitsipas on Saturday?
“It’s anybody’s game really,” said Djokovic. “He’s won eight matches in a row now from last week in France winning [the Marseille] title, now playing more or less every single day, which is quite impressive. It’s not easy… I hope I can recover. I hope I can be at my best because I need to start better than I have tonight. Hopefully I can get a title.”
Tsitsipas may not have Djokovic’s 17-0 2020 record, but the young gun comes into the final with a streak of his own, having won his last eight matches. The 21-year-old picked up four wins in last week’s title run in Marseille, and has added four more in Dubai.
He has dropped just one set en route the final, against Jan-Lennard Struff in the last eight, while he defeated Pablo Carreno Busta, Alexander Bublik and Daniel Evans in his other matches.
Facing British No. 1, Evans for the first time in Friday’s semi-finals, Tsitsipas was in dominant form, winning 90% of points on his first serve, and offering no break points throughout the match. The world No. 6 broke twice in each set en route a comfortable 6-2 6-3 victory after an hour and 21 minutes.
“I just managed to stay solid throughout the whole match,” said Tsitsipas. “I didn’t have massive breakdowns and just played a quality of tennis which I enjoyed… I am really impressed by the quality of my game today and I really hope to bring the same and possibly even better in the next round.”
“I have found momentum… I am executing really well with my forehand which played an incredible role today in the match. I won most of my points from the forehand side, which is my biggest weapon. My serve helped a lot as well.”
Tsitsipas will go after his sixth career title on Saturday, and his first at ATP Masters 500 level. He has five titles at ATP 250 level, and of course, that memorable one at the Nitto ATP Finals to cap a wonderful 2019. The Greek was slow off the blocks in 2020, going 1-2 at the ATP Cup and failing to make a quarter final at the Australian Open or Rotterdam, but he’s finally found his feet over the last fortnight, and is a victory over Novak Djokovic away from the Dubai crown.
“He’s in really good form and shape. He’s been playing great tennis. Everybody has seen what he did at the Australian Open,” Tsitsipas said about Djokovic. “For sure, I’m going to have to bring the best out of my game and reduce my mistakes and in general reduce everything, stay aggressive like today I would say… It’s going to take something extra for me to beat him tomorrow. I’m going to try and seek that.”
Djokovic and Tsitsipas have split their four previous matches, with Tsitsipas leading 2-1 on hard courts. The Greek clearly has tools to hurt Djokovic- a good serve and powerful forehand being the standout weapons- and has also got form and momentum going into this one. He will not be scared of going head-to-head with Djokovic.
However, Djokovic also arrives the final with form and momentum, and after his great escape against Monfils on Friday, perhaps he’s destined to win this yet another title. He’s been offered some sort of second chance- I think he’s going to grab it on Saturday.