Novak Djokovic was made to work hard once more at the Qatar Exxon Mobil Open on Thursday as the World No. 1 fought back from a set down for the second day running. Twenty-four hours after a comeback win over Marton Fucsovics, the 2016 and 2017 champion knocked out fifth-seeded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Djokovic, who clinched year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings for the fifth time last season, will next challenge seventh-seeded Spaniard Roberto-Bautista Agut for a place in Saturday’s final. Djokovic leads Bautista Agut 7-1 in the FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
“I thought Basilashvili was playing terrific from the beginning. I expected him to,” said Djokovic on court of the Georgian, who won his first two ATP Tour titles in 2018, both at ATP 500 events. “I knew that he’s playing probably the tennis of his life in the past 10 months, and he’s definitely one of the greatest hitters in the game.”
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Basilashvili made an immediate impact against the Serbian with his aggressive style of play, breaking in the first and fifth games en route to a 4-1 lead, prior to remaining cool under pressure with pinpoint accurate groundstroke winners.
Djokovic regrouped by absorbing the pressure to open up a 3-0 advantage in the second set. And as Basilashvili came close to recovering to 4-5, the Serbian gained the crowds support with scintillating defence. Both players put everything they had into long, punishing rallies at the start of the decider, which was highlighted by back-to-back service breaks. But Djokovic ultimately was too solid for the up-and-down Basilashvili, triumphing after one hour and 56 minutes.
“I feel I have a gear or two up still. I can still get to one or two levels up, but I thought under the circumstances I managed to find a way to win against a player that is hitting the ball very fast and just being very aggressive. It’s hard to predict where the ball is going to go with a player like him,” Djokovic said. “So you kind of have to be alert at the same time when the chances present [themselves] to take control. Easier said than done because he was really hitting the ball fast from back of the court, so he was not giving me a lot of time to manipulate, maneuver from back of the court. So many times I found myself in defence. I managed to get a win, which is what matters.”
Djokovic has now won 13 consecutive matches in Doha, and is 15-1 overall at the tournament. The World No. 1, owner of 72 tour-level titles, is trying to lift a trophy for the 14th consecutive season, and continue the momentum of his impressive finish to 2018 in which he reached the final in his last five tournaments, winning three of them.
Seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut also played with great poise from the baseline on Thursday to outlast 2008 finalist Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-4.
“I think Stan is a really good player. He is really a tough opponent to beat and we knew each other very well,” Bautista Agut said. “Today I was very consistent and played with a lot of rhythm. I think I did a very complete match.”
The Spaniard got off to strong starts by breaking Wawrinka in the first game and clinched the 48-minute opener on his fourth set point chance. He broke immediately at the start of the second set and put Wawrinka under pressure in the fifth and seventh games. At 5-4, Bautista Agut recovered from 15/40 to complete victory in one hour and 45 minutes.
Last year, the Spaniard lifted the biggest title of his career at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (d. Pouille), an ATP 500-level tournament.
“Tough opponent for sure. He hasn’t dropped a set this week. He played great today against Stan. I saw the match. Just very consistent. Doesn’t miss much. In conditions like this, it’s quite suitable to him,” Djokovic said. “He gets to many balls and he makes you play. That’s his strength. He always puts an extra ball in the court.”
On the other half of the draw, Czech wild card Tomas Berdych, competing in his first tournament since the 2018 Fever-Tree Championships, beat Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-2, 6-4 in 71 minutes. It is Berdych’s first tour-level semi-final since February 2018 in Marseille, and he will play fourth seed Marco Cecchinato, who beat Dusan Lajovic 7-6(2), 6-2.
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Djokovic also competed in doubles on Thursday, falling short with brother Marko Djokovic in a Match Tie-break against David Goffin and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Djokovic/Djokovic, who had lost their five previous matches together before this week, held three match points. Read Report