One set up and facing a break point while serving at 4-5 down in the second, Marton Fucsovics had his heart in his mouth, when he asked for a TV review of Novak Djokovic’s forehand, which was called in.
As it turned out, the ball had landed just inside the baseline, and Fucsovics, who had a swing at the ball half-heartedly presuming it was out, lost his challenge and the set. It was just the opening Djokovic needed to make a comeback in the second round match at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open yesterday.
After having lost the first set, Djokovic had failed to impose himself on Fucsovics in the second as well, before that crucial misjudgment from the Hungarian in the 11th game gave the world No 1 a chance to fight back.
While Fucsovics lost his focus, Djokovic turned into beast mode and ran away with the third set and match 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to seal his place in the quarter-finals at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
“For the first two sets he was the better player,” acknowledged Djokovic after the match. “He played really well, smart, changing up the rhythm and the pace of the ball and moving me around. I was kind of in a corner and I had to find my way and fight my way through.”
The two-time champion improved to 14-1 in Doha, with his only loss coming against Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals on his debut in 2015. He is also now on a 12-match winning streak and is well on course for a third Qatar title, to tie with Roger Federer.
But all that seemed a farfetched possibility when Fucsovics overpowered Djokovic in the opening set with some clean and bold hitting. The world No 36 drew Djokovic to long rallies, varying the pace all along. At 4-4, Fucsovics broke serve on his third break point to move ahead before closing the set with a service winner in the following game.
Just like in the opener, there were no break points in the first eight games of the second set as the two players preferred to play from the baseline. But 14-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic used all his experience when it required as he made a nice hold for a 5-4 lead, forcing Fucsovics to serve to stay in the set.
Djokovic then found his range on his forehand side, earning two set points with a sharp-angled forehand winner before clinching the set in dramatic fashion as Fucsovics made an ill-judged Hawk Eye challenge on a Djokovic forehand which clipped the baseline.
In the deciding set, Djokvoic was all over Fucsovics, breaking the latter’s serve three times. He sealed the match with three winners in the seventh game, to set up a quarter-final clash against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.
The fifth seeded Basilashvili eased past 2018 runner-up Andrey Rublev of Russia 6-3, 6-4. Djokovic has won the only match he played against Basilashvili, but the Serb will have to put on a much better show in the semis against the tournament dark horse.
Meanwhile, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka put on another solid show to keep him on course for a semi-final date with Djokovic.
The 33-year-old got the better of Nicolas Jarry of Chile 6-4, 7-6 (3) over 89 minutes for a place in the quarter-finals. Wawrinka, the 2008 Doha finalist, broke Jarry in the fifth game of the first set and took early control of the second set tie-break. He set up a clash against seventh-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, who cruised past fellow Spaniard and qualifier Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 6-4 in 70 minutes.
Italy’s Marco Cecchinato received a walkover after his opponent Guido Pella of Argentina was forced to pull out due to lower back pain. Fourth-seeded Cecchinato will next face Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, who edged past Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis 7-6 (4), 0-6, 7-5 in two hours and 11 minutes.
Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who had stunned second seed Dominic Thiem in the first round on Tuesday, also won yesterday.
The Frenchman had to work hard before winning against Maximilian Marterer of Germany 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6).
Djokovic and his younger brother Marko entered the doubles semi-finals at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open yesterday. The Serbian siblings beat Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 7-5, 3-6, 10-7 in the quarter-finals.
The Djokovic brothers, who had not won a match together in five attempts before coming to Doha, have now won two in two.
They face either Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya or David Goffin and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, for a place in the final.
In another semi-final, Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop take on Santiago Gonzalez and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.
Singles (Second Round)
n 1-Novak Djokovic (SRB) bt Marton Fucsovics 4-6, 6-4, 6-1
n Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) bt Nicolas Jarry (CHI) 6-4, 7-6 (3)
n 7-Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) bt Q-Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) 6-1, 6-4
n Dusan Lajovic (SRB) bt Q-Ricardas Berankis (LTU) 7-6 (4), 0-6, 7-5
n Pierre-Hughes Herbert (FRA) bt Q-Maximilian Marterer (GER) 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (8-6)
n 4-Marco Cecchinato (ITA) w/o Guido Pella (ARG)
n 5-Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) bt Andrey Rublev (RUS) 6-3, 6-4
n Robin Haase/Matwe Middelkoop (NED) bt Maximo Gonzalez (ARG)/Nicolas Jarry (CHI) 6-2, 6-4
By Sahan Bidappa
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2019