CINCINNATI: Novak Djokovic battled back to beat Ukrainian qualifier Alexandr Dolgopolov 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 on Saturday to book a final with Roger Federer at the ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters.
Djokovic, seeking a 20th ATP Masters 1000 title, will try to claim his first trophy on the hardcourts of Cincinnati after losing in the final four times.
Two of those defeats were to Switzerland’s Federer, a six-time winner of the tournament who dispatched last week’s Montreal winner Andy Murray 6-4, 7-6 (8/6).
Federer has now defeated Murray for the fifth time in succession, with Federer’s record in the series standing at 14-11.
The 34-year-old Swiss earned the opening set with a break in the third game but had to duel in a tiebreaker to claim straight sets win and secure his spot in the final on his second match point without the loss of serve this week.
“I got off to a good start in the first set,” said Federer, whose impressive Cincinnati record stands at 41-8. “It was my first day match so I had to be focused to conditions.
“In the second there were not that many chances. I focused on serve. It was great to hold against a quality player like Andy. I tried to mix up the second serve and today it worked pretty well.
“I’m excited to be in another final,” added Federer. “It’s the ultimate test to play Novak, he’s had a great run the last few years.”
The two are even with 20 wins apiece in 40 prior career meetings, but Djokovic has won the last three — including last month’s Wimbledon final.
Winning the semi-final also opens the door for Federer to steal back the ATP number two ranking which Murray claimed this week after his victory in Montreal.
With a seventh title he would return to number two in time to gain the second seeding at the US Open, which begins on August 31.
With the start of the year’s final Grand Slam just nine days away, Djokovic needed on-court treatment from the tournament doctor, and pain-killing medication after he complained of tightness in his abdomen early in the second set.
“It’s OK, nothing major,” Djokovic said. “It was a minor problem that was solved in couple minutes, and I’m sure it’s going to be fine tomorrow.”
In Sunday’s final, Djokovic will be aiming to become the first player to win all nine of the elite Masters 1000 events.
“I gave myself another chance to fight for the trophy,” he said. “That was the goal and that was the wish coming here in Cincinnati.
“Obviously the last couple of years it was always in the back of my mind, the potential history making, and obviously that motivates me even more.
“Having that in back of my mind helped me to go through matches like one today.”
The 66th-ranked Dolgopolov — who also had on-court treatment to have his feet taped — made Djokovic work to keep that chance alive.
Although Djokovic gained the upper hand in the second set with a break for a 5-3 lead, the Ukrainian promptly broke back to push the set to a tiebreak in Dolgopolov led 3-0 and 5-4 before Djokovic managed to level the match at a set apiece.
From there, Djokovic took control, breaking Dolgopolov twice for a 4-1 lead in the third en route to the victory in two hours and 20 minutes.
The outcome mirrored their most recent prior meeting, in which Djokovic defeated Dolgopolov 6-7 (3/7), 7-5, 6-0 in the round of 16 at the Miami Masters.
But Djokovic said he’d have to do better against Federer.
“Tomorrow, I need to be able to play better than I did today, no question about it,” Djokovic said. “But I’ve been in these particular situations before, and I’m going to get myself ready.”