Dubai: Djokovic d. Del Potro

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Three-time champion Novak Djokovic returns to the Dubai final this year after defeating Juan Martin del Potro, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Before today, Djokovic led their head-to-head 7-2, a numerical asymmetry which reflects the Serb’s greater completeness as a player. Del Potro can look a little exposed and one-dimensional against Djokovic, particularly on the backhand wing, which was demonstrated with painful clarity today. Djokovic went down the line both frequently and judiciously, using his backhand effectively early in the match, so that even when playing long rallies solely cross-court, the potential down-the-line sting loomed large in everyone’s minds, leaving del Potro teetering in the center of the baseline. Unwilling to respond in kind and keep Djokovic similarly honest, del Potro’s occasional running around to go up the line with his forehand didn’t make up the difference.

Similarly, del Potro’s unwillingness to move forward meant that, too often, points were decided by his power from the baseline against Djokovic’s defense. The latter is, by its nature, generally too solid for the former, and that was the story of a close first set.

After four hotly-contested service games, with del Potro serving at 2-3 and holding game point, Djokovic landed a return at the Argentine’s ankles, which was noteworthy even amongst his routinely brilliant returning. Game point down again, Djokovic hit an outrageous, off-balance, off-the-back-foot backhand winner down the line to stay in the game before del Potro pushed consecutive forehands long for the break. It was the only break point of the set, but it was all that was required, as Djokovic held to love twice to seal it.

Del Potro initially responded well, picking up his first-serve percentage and effectiveness in the second set, then landing his only two really aggressive returns of the match for 0-30 on Djokovic’s serve. It eventually led to a break after a Djokovic ball shaded long.

Trailing 1-3, Djokovic quickly started to play more aggressively, attacking the net for the second time in the match and working his way inside the baseline, earning a break point after pummelling del Potro’s backhand for a good 20-25 shots. Del Potro was given a time violation warning as he bounced the ball to serve and promptly, but perhaps not surprisingly, framed a forehand to give up the break.

Del Potro eschewed a racquet break in favor of an arm-waving argument with the umpire during the change of ends. He doesn’t have a good history of bouncing back mentally from officiating decisions he feels are unfair, and del Potro was broken again in his next service game.

Things took an unexpected detour when Djokovic was broken while serving for the match, and a tiebreaker was needed. The initial stages were dominated by long, tentative rallies (if you can apply the adjective to hitting with their pace and power), but once again it was Djokovic who took matters into his own hands, pressing forward determinedly behind a good return and opening up space for a forehand winner and the mini-break advantage. He took the tiebreak, 7-4, to remain undefeated in 2013.

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