Friday, January 8, 2016

QATAR OPEN: Nadal and Djokovic set up Doha final, Djokovic reveals slight injury concern

 Photos via Qatar Tennis Federation

Rafael Nadal has not won a hard court title in two years and has not defeated Novak Djokovic in 18 months but the world No5 has a chance to end both droughts on Saturday when he squares off with his nemesis in the Qatar Open final.

It will be the 47th meeting between Nadal and Djokovic with the pair locked at 23-23 against one another. Nadal has lost all four clashes he’s had with the world No1 in 2015 though.

Djokovic has a chance to lead Nadal in their head-to-head for the first time ever. But the Serb’s fitness has been thrown into question after he revealed on Friday that he has been dealing with some pain in his arm which he has been feeling while serving this week.

In his pre-match warm-up hit with Malek Jaziri on Friday, Djokovic cut the session short citing pain in his arm. He admits he has spent lots of time with the physio in Doha to be able to get through his matches.

“I have been struggling a little bit. With the arm, you know, with the serve,” Djokovic said on Friday after his 6-3, 7-6 (3) semi-final victory over Tomas Berdych.

“But once I warm it up and physio has got to do a lot of work in the day to make me feel prepared so I can actually serve and play a match.

“I don't think it's a major concern. Obviously knowing that I can play a match makes me feel relief a little bit, but it's a little issue that it's there for most of this week. So hopefully till Australian Open (starts January 18) it's going to fade away.”


Despite the injury concern, Djokovic managed to storm into a 16th consecutive final and is now just two short of Ivan Lendl’s Open Era record of 18 in a row.

Like in his quarter-final against Leonardo Mayer on Thursday, Djokovic was broken in his first service game of the match against Berdych to fall behind 0-2.

Berdych had a chance to go up a double-break but squandered two break points and it seemed to throw the Czech off as he was broken in game six and Djokovic ran away with the set.

In the second set, neither player could muster a break but it was Djokovic who took a commanding lead in the tiebreak to move into this first Doha final.

“I guess it’s a pretty important match tomorrow. Let’s see what happens,” Djokovic told the crowd of his upcoming final against Nadal.

He added in his press conference: “I have noticed that Rafa has been very aggressive on second-serve returns this week. So he's been trying to, of course, change something, improve, and it's no surprise to me, honestly. I know him. I know his character and what a fighter and a hard worker he is. So he's one of the best players in the history of the game for a reason, and I'm sure that after last year's season that was not up to his standards, he's willing to do something else and, improve his game. He's in the finals, so that's already proof that he's been playing well.”

Earlier on centre court, Nadal needed just one hour and 17 minutes to defeat the tournament’s surprise package Illya Marchenko 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal refused to describe his match against Marchenko as perfect but it certainly appeared like it was from the stands.

The Spaniard dropped just four points on his first serve, saved the solitary break point he faced, fired six aces, no double faults, 16 winners against 13 unforced and was at no point out of control.

The No2 seed was up 3-0 inside the first 10 minutes of the clash, and even though he squandered chances to go up a double-break in the sixth game, Nadal was unfazed and knotted the first set swiftly with a service winner. He had won 100 per cent of his points on first serve at that point.

Nadal broke for 3-2 in the second set and had to save a break point to consolidate in game six. He never looked back from then on.

“Not perfect, obviously. But I did a few good things, and I'm happy with the victory, being in the first final of the season in the first official tournament is something great, very good news, very happy for that,” said a coy Nadal.

“For sure is important for me for my confidence, confirm that the end of 2015 season had been something realistic and this beginning of 2016 I still playing well, so I'm able to already won four matches here and be in the final. Have points, have confidence, and rhythm. So everything is all positive.”

It wasn’t the only Spanish triumph of the day as Marc Lopez and Feliciano Lopez captured their first doubles title together as partners, easing past Philipp Petzschner and Alexander Peya 6-4, 6-3, and perhaps signalling the damage they could do should they be chosen to represent Spain in doubles at the Olympics this summer.

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