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Fri 27 Feb 2009 09:18 AM

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Djokovic secures Dubai final spot after epic

Top seed Novak Djokovic survives scare to make it through to the final in Dubai.

Top-seeded Novak Djokovic survived a scare and an exhausting battle of not far short three hours in intense heat before he reached the final of the Dubai Open on Friday.

The former Australian Open champion from Serbia survived 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 against Gilles Simon, the world number eight from France, but only after going a break of serve down in the final set.

Neither man played at his best in temperatures of more than 100 degrees fahrenheit in the sun, with Djokovic making many uncharacteristic errors in the first half of the match and Simon becoming rather passive in the later stages.

Eventually Djokovic came through because his experience in tight situations was greater than his opponent's, and because Simon was not able to push through to make a double break of serve in the final set.

Asked how he got through it, the favourite said: "It's hard to explain. Physically and mentaly I had to be all the time focussed, and just believe that I can win. Fighting was the key today.

"I was being too aggressive and making a lot of unforced errors and I decided to be more patient."

Questioned about playing in such heat he said: "You get used to it. It's the same for both of us. We have to be ready to play in the later stages of the tournament.

"It was difficult for me though because I had played three matches at night and suddenly I have a semi-final in day conditions."

And when he was asked about whether he felt he would have enough energy for the final, he conspicuously did not answer yes, replying rather wanly: "I will find it."

His difficulties began in the sixth game when he opened up the court with a nicely faded forehand drive, only to pull the ball wide with the attempted winner, losing his service game to go 2-4 down.

Simon consolidated the break and closed out the set, and looked likely to pinch the second set too, after surviving break points against him at 2-3.

But he had Djokovic at love-30 at both 3-3 and 4-4, and as the rallies grew longer and both players more fatigued, his tension increased. Serving to save the set at 5-6 he was lured into driving errors which caused the match to go to a decider.

Simon broke at once and led 2-0 and 3-1 but Djokovic, without ever playing really well, always looked capable of fighting back, which he did by regaining parity at 3-3.

However the Serb bounced his racket three times in exasperation when he failed to break for 5-3, once again raising doubts as to whether he is yet comfortable with the change of brand to which he signed up this year. Yesterday he admitted that he had been over-hitting with the new brand.

It meant that the conclusion again happened with Simon serving to save it at 5-6. The third seed crucially failed to put the ball away at the net at 30-30 and on match point at 30-40 allowed Djokovic to make the first decent strike, which set up a chance to put a smash triumphantly away.

Furoius with himself, Simon felt that he had allowed Djokovic to get away with a match that he himself should have won. "I was less tired than he was, but the only thing I had in my game was my legs," he said harshly.

"Even when I had opportunities to so something I didn't take them. I lost a match I could have won and I don't like that."

Surprisingly Simon thought it was the worst of his four performances in this tournament, and he gave a clear explanation why, though his view may have partially been influenced by disappointment.

"Not because of my level, which was not lower than before," he said. "But because I was not able to do anything at the right time.

"I was in better shape than him, because I saw him exhausted, but on his serve he didn't have to run.

"I was nervous on the important moments so I played bad points, and I just was pushing, pushing the ball. I wasn't able to play at the net, I was not serving (well), and not playing good. All I was doing was just trying to run."

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