Dubai: Djokovic d. Berdych

Organizers rolled out the red carpet before the trophy ceremony in Dubai; center court must look like a welcome mat to Novak Djokovic at this point.

Covering the court with the exuberance of a man completing a homecoming, Djokovic won 11 of the final 15 games to defuse big-hitting Tomas Berdych, 7-5, 6-3 and capture his fourth Dubai championship in the last five years. Fans serenaded the world No. 1 with a celebratory chant of "Nole! Nole!" as multi-colored confetti showered the court. It was the 18th consecutive victory for Djokovic, who raised his record to 13-0 on the season, continuing his career-long mastery of Berdych by collecting his 13th win in their 14 meetings.

Big Berd rarely looks up to opponents—only a handful of men in the Top 100 are taller than the 6’5” Czech—but he can't seem to shirk Djokovic's sizable shadow. A day after fighting off three match points in an electric three-set semifinal win over five-time champion Roger Federer, Berdych drew first blood in the final.

Stretched wide, the third seed extended the point with a one-handed slice backhand, streaked to the opposite sideline then lifted a running forehand pass crosscourt that eluded a lunging Djokovic as the fist-pumping Czech broke for a 3-2 lead. In the sixth game, the weight of a Berdych forehand drive nearly knocked Djokovic backward, like a man whose rib-cage was rattled by a medicine ball hurled into his mid-section. A slashing inside-out forehand from Berdych helped him consolidate for a 4-2 advantage.

Two penetrating shots — a thunderous first serve and his bold two-handed backhand down the line — helped power Berdych to the lead, but Djokovic never blinked. He's seen this script before and has a clear idea of how the story ends.

This is a comfortable match-up for the six-time Grand Slam champion because he's the more agile athlete, he's quicker around the court, a better ball-striker on the run and shrewder at changing up the spins on his shots, which gives him access to angles the flatter-hitting Berdych can't consistently produce.  Though Berdych has scored significant doubles victories in leading the Czech Republic to the Davis Cup, he often looks averse to the front court and is prone to playing clunky volleys under pressure. It cost him when he hammered a backhand down the line to open the court, but bungled a routine high forehand volley, slapping it into net to drop serve for 4-all in a deflating donation.

Djokovic stumbled after a return blast from Berdych, banging up his right toe in the process, but couldn't catch up to the blistering shot facing a third break point in the ninth game. An effective slice serve out wide set up a crackling two-hander crosscourt as Djokovic denied the break point, eventually holding for 5-4 after 41 minutes of often explosive play.

The Berdych backhand that was so vital in erecting the lead proved critical in eradicating it. Sailing a pair of backhands beyond the baseline, Berdych fell into a double-set point deficit and succumbed to the pressure, double-faulting deep. Djokovic won eight of the final nine points in seizing the first set in 51 minutes.

Snapping off successive aces, Djokovic held at 30 to open the second set; Berdych responded with a three-ace game for 1-all. Digging out of a 0-30 hole in the seventh game and exploiting his advantage in running rallies, Djokovic worked over the Berdych backhand diligently drawing errors and winning four straight points to hold for 4-3.

Pressure-induced cracks in the eight game expanded into a full-blown break when Berdych mis-hit a forehand long to face a break point. Djokovic curled a clever lob into the corner that forced Berdych to wait for the ball to bounce, he slid an overhead wide handing Djokovic the crucial break and a 5-3 second-set lead. The top seed played the pivotal points with more care: Djokovic converted three of four break-point chances; Berdych was one of five on break-point opportunities.

Towering flat-ball hitters have learned that trying to hit through Djokovic is as effective as slamming your head against a sand castle wall. Djokovic is a combined 27-4 against three of the hardest hitters of recent years — Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, whom he swept in the semis, and Robin Soderling.

The world No. 1 whipped an inside-out forehand to convert his second match point and wrap up an impressive one hour, 34-minute conquest. Realizing his latest red-carpet moment with some timely trips to net and an enduring sense of calm, Djokovic rolled to his 36th career title without surrendering a set.




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