Djokovic, Federer into Dubai semis
Roger Federer earned himself a chance of revenge for his most disappointing defeat of 2012 by carrying the defence of his Dubai Open title impressively into the semifinals on Thursday.
The five-time champion's 6-2, 6-2 win over Nikolay Davydenko earned him a semifinal with Tomas Berdych, the dangerously flat-hitting Czech who halted Federer in the quarterfinals of the US Open in 2012.
The super-fast success also brought Federer within one win of a likely showdown with world No 1 Novak Djokovic, who hopes to mark his first tournament since retaining the Australian Open title by regaining the Dubai title.
Djokovic had earlier extended his unbeaten sequence this year to 11 with a trampling 6-0, 6-3 success over Andreas Seppi which suggested that he will be very hard to stop.
But Federer was on a roll too. His serve was in tremendous form, he moved with relaxed authority, and he made some surprising ambushes at the net.
The loss of only eight points on serve against Davydenko was a remarkable statistic against a player who is no longer quite at his peak but who remains one of the best returners and most eye-catching ground stroke hitters in the game.
"Today I thought I was really striking it well, and then virtue of that I was getting the first strike in and then I was able to control the baseline more. So it was a good match for me," said Federer.
"With a player like Nikolay, you don't quite know what you're going to get. How well is he hitting the ball? I thought he was really hitting the ball well, getting through to the quarters and the players he beat. I knew I was in for a tough match.
"But then sometimes the better he strikes it, the more natural it is for me."
From the moment Federer achieved his third break, early in the second set, the outcome was already clear, and the only doubt was how long it would take.
The answer was only 54 minutes – 10 minutes quicker than Djokovic's romping success.
Nevertheless Djokovic's dashing court coverage and imposingly aggressive service returns intimidated Seppi so much that the seventh-seeded Italian won only three points on his service in a morale-destroying 24-minute first set.
The second set offered only a little more comfort.
"I'm pleased that it was an even better performance than in my first two matches and that I'm elevating my level," said the top-seeded Serb.
"Hopefully I can sustain that," he said, talking of Friday's semifinal with Juan Martin Del Potro, the former US Open champion, who beat German qualifier Daniel Brands, 6-4, 6-2.
Afterwards Del Potro revealed some of the obstacles to returning to his former prominence in a career which was damaged by a wrist injury which sidelined him for most of 2010.
"The good thing is it's not getting worse," he said rather ambiguously. "I can hit my backhand often day by day, and it's a good thing to be a hundred percent."
He then cast doubt on how certain that was.
"I will have the rest of the day to recover in my wrist and do the best what I can."
Berdych, the world No 6, has continued to cope well with a schedule requiring him to travel 3 000 miles from Marseille where he contested the final on Sunday.
There he beat Dmitry Tursunov 6-2, 6-1 in the semis.
Now he beat the Russian wildcard entry again, just as solidly, by 6-3, 6-2. Berdych also looked more comfortable than earlier during this week.
"I am making the transition," Berdych said, referring to the change from cold European indoor courts to the warm and sometimes windy hard courts of the Gulf.
His improvement appeared to make him relish another meeting with Federer, whom he has beaten five times in 16 tries.
"Probably he knows what is working on him," said Berdych, who knows how to take time away from Federer with a fierce first strike.