DUBAI: Tomas Berdych saved three match points on his way to beating titleholder Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the Dubai Championships semifinals yesterday, setting up a showdown with world No.1 Novak Djokovic in today’s final.
Federer surged from 5-2 down in the second set but then fluffed three match points in the tiebreak before Czech Berdych forced a deciding set with a bludgeoned return winner.
In the final set, two miscued forehands and a double fault from Federer gave Berdych two break points at 2-2.
The Swiss saved the first with an ace but skewed another forehand wide to fall 3-2 behind and Berdych was able to serve out the match for a fifth win in his past eight meetings with Federer.
Earlier, Djokovic beat a stubborn Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 7-6, extending his winning streak to 17 matches.
“I was very pleased with the performance overall and the way I handled myself in the tough moments,” said Djokovic, who hasn’t lost since October.
“Mentally I stayed tough and believed that I could go all the way and win in straight sets. I didn’t really allow myself to be negative. I have been very, very positive and confident.”
Unlike Djokovic, del Potro said he lost his focus after the time violation warning.
“I lost my calm when I started to discuss with the umpire, and (Djokovic) come back in the second so quick,” del Potro said. “He’s the No. 1. When he feels the chance to improve his game, he always takes it. Tonight, he played better all the time.”
Del Potro, though, criticized the timing of the warning, considering it came just as he was about to make his serve. His complaints followed that of Berdych, who said this week it was an unnecessary rule and that a clock should be put on court to ensure the rule was applied consistently.
“We play very long rallies during the match and he called the warning just before I served, a break point down,” he said. “It’s a very important point for the game, for the match. Maybe he doesn’t know about that. … If you call a warning or if you do something different, you can lose focus, and that’s what happened with me.”
Djokovic agreed it was an unfair call, since del Potro had not been verbally warned beforehand which often was the custom.
“As a chair umpire, you need to follow the game,” Djokovic said. “If it’s a long point, you need to have that little amount of tolerance, I guess, and patience also for the player. It’s unfortunate obviously, you know. I understand why he was frustrated.”
The ATP modified the rule this year to make it easier for umpires to crack down on slow play. Slow play between points has been a long-running complaint among fans and some players.
Nadal in last four
In Acapulco, Mexico, Rafael Nadal’s injury comeback gathered pace Thursday as the 11-time Grand Slam champion reached the semifinals of the Mexican Open and inched closer to a possible title showdown with fellow Spaniard David Ferrer.
Nadal, playing his third tournament in four weeks after a seven-month injury layoff, beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer 6-1, 7-5 in the quarters and will now play Nicolas Almagro.
Ferrer, the top seed and three-time defending champion whose world No. 4 ranking puts him one spot higher than Nadal, breezed past Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi 6-3, 6-1 to book a semifinal clash with Fabio Fognini. The tournament is one of three Latin American clay court events Nadal tabbed for his comeback from a left knee injury.
He opened with a runner-up finish at Vina del Mar — his first tournament since a surprise second-round exit at Wimbledon in June — and followed up by lifting the title in Sao Paulo two weeks ago.
“This was a very difficult match,” Nadal said. “Leonardo was playing really well in the second set, he began to play more aggressive and his serve was working well.” Ferrer went down an early break against Lorenzi but bounced back quickly and broke the Italian five times en route to the victory in 72 minutes. He next faces another Italian in Fognini, a 7-5, 6-4 winner over Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo.
Nadal’s next opponent Almagro, a two-time winner in Acapulco, beat Horacio Zeballos of Argentina 6-3, 6-4, firing down 10 aces in the 70-minute encounter.
Almagro’s win denied Nadal the chance for revenge against Zeballos, who beat the Spanish number two seed in the Vina del Mar final.
In the women’s quarterfinals of this combined ATP and WTA tournament, top seed and defending champion Sara Errani defeated Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-4.
Second-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro also advanced, downing sixth-seeded Italian Francesca Schiavone 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-2.
Champ Hsieh out
In Kuala Lumpur, defending champion Hsieh Su Wei lost in the BMW Malaysian Open’s quarterfinals yesterday, going down 7-5, 6-2 to American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
The Taiwanese’s defeat, coupled with seed No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki’s first-round loss on Wednesday, means no defending champion or top seed has ever won the Malaysian Open.
Asked about this “tournament jinx,” second seed Hsieh just laughed and said:
Mattek-Sands — who is known as the Lady Gaga of tennis after attending the 2011 pre-Wimbledon party in a dress made of tennis balls — already staged a surprise win Thursday when she crushed Duan Ying-Ying of China in two sets.

Mattek-Sands will now meet world No. 29 and third seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who brushed aside Australian youngster Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 6-0 in just an hour.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Ayumi Morita edged closer to winning her first ever WTA title after beating Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 6-1.
Morita, who ranks 55 in the world and has played in the Malaysian Open since the inaugural event in 2011, will meet 127th-ranked Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in Saturday’s semifinal.
Pliskova eliminated Austrian Patricia Mayr-Achleitner 7-5, 6-1 to set-up the meeting with Morita.