Roger Federer snapped a three-match losing streak against Novak Djokovic. (Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images)
No. 8 Roger Federer rallied to beat No. 2 and defending champion Novak Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday to advance to the final of the Dubai Championships. Federer will play No. 6 Tomas Berdych in Saturday's final as the Swiss seeks his first hard-court title since the Western & Southern Open in August 2012.
After a slow start, Federer came back to earn his first victory against Djokovic when dropping the first set. The first two sets were decided by small margins, with some scintillating play from both men; they took advantage of the quick conditions to play some big-hitting, aggressive tennis.
Federer earned a 0-30 lead on Djokovic's serve in the sixth game of the second set before a brief rain delay. When play resumed, the match turned completely in Federer's favor. He went on to break and won 10 of the last 13 games for the victory.
Federer improved to 17-15 overall and 13-12 on hard courts against Djokovic. He also recorded his third top-10 victory of the season after beating Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Australian Open; Federer had four all of last season, including two at the ATP World Tour Finals. Djokovic, who lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, fell to 0-2 against top-10 players this year.
Follow our game-by-game analysis after the jump:
12:02 p.m. ET | Roger Federer defeats Novak Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
No one knows better than Federer how hard it is to close out a match against Djokovic. Sure enough, the Serb earns two break points. But he can't convert either and two points later, Federer has match point. He fires a second serve wide and Djokovic goes for a backhand down the line that lands wide.
For the first time in his career, Federer beats Djokovic after losing the first set. He shakes his fist toward his box. This was a huge win for him, setting up a big opportunity tomorrow against Tomas Berdych in the final.
Final stat line:
Djokovic: 24 winners, 23 unforced errors, 8 for 17 at the net and 1 for 6 on break points.
Federer: 26 winners, 20 unforced errors, 11 for 17 at the net and 3 for 7 on break points.
11:58 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, trails *5-2.
Another casual hold for Federer at 15 and he's now won nine of the last 11 games, all coming since the rain delay. Djokovic responds with a love hold and Federer will serve for the match after the changeover.
11:53 a.m. ET | Federer breaks, leads *4-1.
Djokovic looks done and dusted. Another shaky service game gets to deuce and Federer ramps up the pressure. He earns a break point for a double-break lead, but Djokovic saves it at the net, forcing Federer to go for a lob that he hits long. But he earns another break point and this time when Djokovic approaches to Federer's forehand -- HUGE MISTAKE -- the Swiss fires a cross-court pass right past him.
Roger Federer with a double-break lead on a fast hard court? We've seen Djokovic spoil his leads before, but I'm not sure he'll do it here.
11:46 a.m. ET | Federer holds, leads 3-1*.
A bit of a charge by Djokovic to get to 30-all, but Federer still holds. At this point, it's entirely mental for Djokovic. We'll have to see if he can pull himself out of his rut. Aside from the early aggressive push to earn his lead, Federer hasn't had to do anything special.
Could this be Federer's week? Last week it was Venus Williams coming through with a breakout run.
11:40 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, trails *2-1.
From 40-love to deuce. Djokovic is shambolic off the ground. He's not missing by inches; he's missing by yards. The footwork and timing are completely off, while Federer is playing solid tennis. Djokovic scrapes out an essential hold with two service winners to get on the board.
11:36 a.m. ET | Federer breaks and holds, leads 2-0*.
Djokovic serves first and right out of the gate Federer is forcing the issue, rushing to the net in the first two points. They split the points, but has he created some doubt in Djokovic's mind? The Serb loses the next three points with two routine backhand errors and then on break point he double-faults. Wow.
Some deep returning and hitting from Djokovic, who still looks shaky off the ground, earns him two break points as Federer tries to consolidate his lead. Federer saves both break points with service winners and he once again attacks the net at deuce to win the point on an overhead smash. He's seen the errors come off Djokovic's racket so he's taking just a little bit off his strokes to force Djokovic to be aggressive. Djokovic takes the bait. He comes into the net on a short ball and Federer passes him with a blistering backhand cross court to consolidate. He's won five of the last six games since the rain delay.
11:25 a.m. ET | Federer wins the second 6-3 to force a third set.
Good response from Djokovic to earn a love hold, but the crowd is going nuts for Federer. Not only do the fans love the guy but they also want to see a third set.
And they will. Quick and easy service game from Federer and he closes out the set with a love hold. Going three.
11:20 a.m. ET | Federer breaks and holds, leads 5-2*.
Play resumes and Federer gets three break points at 0-40. Very shaky from the Djokovic forehand in this game. Djokovic saves the first two with service winners but he can't save a third. Federer fires a backhand down the line to secure his first break of the match.
Federer consolidates the break at 30. We now have ourselves a match.
11:11 a.m. ET | Rain delay.
As Federer gets to 0-30 on Djokovic's serve, the players are forced to sit as rain begins to fall. They're still on court, so the officials are clearly hoping this will pass soon.
11:07 a.m. ET | Federer holds, leads 3-2*.
Djokovic is killing his backhand down the line. Snuffs out a 0-15 look by winning the next four points.
Here's one of those backhands:
(Via Sports Today)
A fantastic lob from the baseline from Djokovic helps him earn a break point at 30-40. Federer saves it with a beautiful backhand pass that Djokovic lunges for but can't get. Deuce. That was Federer's first backhand winner of the match.
Federer scrapes out the hold. Big one.
10:57 a.m. ET | Federer holds 2-1*.
Quick love hold for Federer to start the second set. The first set was decided by just one break and each man had only one break chance, so if Federer can just stay level and hold his serve early in this set this match could get back to even. Falling behind 3-0 in the first set let Djokovic relax and play his style.
Djokovic holds at 15. Federer responds with an easy hold of his own.
10:48 a.m. ET | Djokovic wins the first set 6-3.
Federer holds at 15. Regardless of the deficit, I like how well he's hitting his forehand. Not just getting pace and power, but consistently good depth. But as good as he's hitting it, he's still unable to back Djokovic off the baseline. These two have won nine of the last 11 titles in Dubai. They know how quickly these courts play and Djokovic, to his credit, isn't falling into a defensive shell. He's not letting Federer be the aggressor.
As Djokovic tries to serve out the set, Federer gets a look at 15-30 but nets a forehand that he really should have made. Djokovic follows that up with a service winner but nets a forehand on set point. Deuce.
Incredible 26-shot rally that goes Federer's way to save set point! Lots of angles and defense but it was Federer's reflexes on a stab lob that turned that point on its head.
Watch the point below:
But it's not enough to steal the game. Djokovic closes out the game with an ace wide -- his fourth of the match-- and he's got the first set in just 35 minutes.
Ten winners to 7 unforced for Djokovic in that very clean first set. Eight winners to 6 unforced for Federer. Really wasn't a poor set from Federer. He just let it get away from him early and on these quick courts, which favor the server, breaks are at a premium.
10:37 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 5-2*.
Federer falls to deuce on his service game but holds. This has been a match full of massive hitting from both men, but it's Djokovic who is looking cleaner and more comfortable. He holds easily at 15.
The crowd is rallying to get Federer back into the match.
10:28 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads *4-1.
Federer gets on the board with a hold at love. Great service game from him after that bad start.
Now the streak is going Federer's way. He wins six straight points to get to 0-30 on Djokovic's serve. His backhand doesn't look great but his forehand is clicking. Djokovic plays some PlayStation-style defense to finally fend him off to reach 30-all. On game point, Djokovic does well to attack the Federer backhand but decides to take the ball down the line too early in the rally and nets it. A little more patience there would have been better. Deuce.
Federer gets a look at his first break point but this time Djokovic is indeed patient. Hitting the ball consistently to Federer's backhand, he takes advantage of Federer's slice to save the point. An ace and a forehand winner later and Djokovic holds.
10:20 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-0*.
Just three points into the match, Federer and Djokovic play the point of the tournament. Djokovic plays some incredible defense and then is drawn into the net on a perfect drop shot from Federer. Djokovic somehow tracks it down and scoops it cross-court and it ticks the tape and lands in at an impossible angle. Federer recovers, the rally gets reset to neutral and Djokovic finally wins when Federer yanks a forehand wide.
Watch the point below:
(Via Tennis Videos Yo)
Djokovic holds and then gets an easy break on Federer. The Swiss has been slow to start all week. Djokovic consolidates for a 3-0 lead. He's won 12 of the first 14 points. Federer's backhand looks shaky early.
10:12 a.m. ET | Warm-up
Both men are on court warming up. Djokovic has come out in the drabbest of light grey kits, while Federer is in the better-looking colorway of his current kit -- a blue shirt, white shorts, red shoes and red headband. Based on fashion alone, Federer wins 6-4, 6-1.
This match is obviously a big test for both men, though given the recent head-to-head it will be a tougher task for Federer. He won their last match on outdoor hard court, in Cincinnati in 2012, but Djokovic has won their last three matches, all on indoor hard courts. While it's a big test for Federer, it's Djokovic who has more to lose. He has yet to put his stamp on this season and a title in Dubai would give him confidence going into Indian Wells and Miami.
The winner of this match will play Tomas Berdych in the final. Both men are ready and Djokovic will serve first.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will meet in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships on Friday. The match is scheduled to begin no earlier than 10 a.m. ET.
Both players are competing in their first ATP Tour tournament since the Australian Open. Djokovic cruised through the first two rounds and received a walkover from Mikhail Youzhny in the quarterfinals, while Federer needed three sets to beat Radek Stepanek in the second round before rolling past Lukas Rosol in the quarterfinals.
Federer leads the head-to-head 16-15, but Djokovic has won three consecutive meetings, including both clashes last year, and nine of the last 12. The record on hard courts is 12-12. The players have split two matches on the hard courts in Dubai, where Djokovic is the defending champion and four-time winner and Federer is a five-time champion. The two have combined to win nine of the last 11 Dubai titles.