Novak Djokovic survived a dramatic semi-final encounter with Gael Monfils at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday, saving three consecutive match points to defeat the Frenchman 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-1.
The World No. 1 trailed Monfils 3/6 in the second-set tie-break, but trusted his forehand under pressure before cruising to victory in the final set. Djokovic is through to his sixth Dubai final (4-1) after winning his 40th match in 46 encounters at the ATP 500 event.
“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 has now won 20 consecutive matches for the seventh time in his career. The four-time champion also improves to 17-0 this year, building on his title run at the inaugural ATP Cup with Team Serbia and his eighth Australian Open triumph last month.
Novak Djokovic’s 20+ Match Win Streaks
Djokovic improves to 17-0 in his ATP Head2Head series against Monfils. Across those 17 meetings, Djokovic has been pushed to a final set on seven occasions. Djokovic has now won 73 of his 75 matches against French opposition since lifting the 2010 Davis Cup title.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion will face Stefanos Tsitsipas for the trophy. Djokovic is tied at 2-2 in his ATP Head2Head series against the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion, who will be competing in his second straight championship match in Dubai.
“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.”
Monfils played with great variety and power to unsettle Djokovic from the baseline in the opening set. The Frenchman stepped in on his returns and overcame the World No. 1 in a series of extended baseline rallies, grabbing the first break of the match in a marathon game at 1-1 as Djokovic missed the court with aggressive groundstrokes. After earning a second service break, the World No. 9 served with confidence to convert his first set point with a powerful serve out wide.
Monfils outmanoeuvred Djokovic at the net and capitalised on further errors from his opponent to claim a break in the third game of the second set. But Djokovic began to lower his error count, playing with greater consistency from the baseline to find his way back into the set.
Djokovic earned five set points late in the second set, but Monfils played with bravery and commitment to erase each one and reach a tie-break. The Frenchman struck back-to-back winners from 4/3 to earn three consecutive match points. Monfils was unable to take his opportunity, striking two groundstroke errors as Djokovic’s forehand found its range. The World No. 1 trusted the same shot at 8/8 and moved to the net to earn his eighth set point, which was converted as Monfils committed his sixth double fault of the match.
Djokovic charged to the finish line from that point as Monfils began to struggle with his movement. From 0-1 in the decider, Djokovic dropped just five points to claim six consecutive games and a place in the final. The 32-year-old opened and closed the final game with forehand winners to complete the comeback.
“I just wasn’t taking my chances when I was having rallies on those [first five] set points. But that kind of turned around from 3/6 in the tie-break. From that moment onwards I felt I was going through the ball better,” said Djokovic.
“Obviously [in the] third set it’s hard to measure it because obviously he was injured from the third game of the third set and it wasn’t even close to what he played in the first two hours.”
Monfils was aiming to extend his career-best 12-match winning streak. The World No. 9 was seeking his third trophy in as many events, after triumphing indoors at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier and the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam earlier this month. Monfils, who came into the tournament third in the ATP Race To London, has put himself in early contention to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals.