Grand Slam record-holder Roger Federer earned another showdown with defending champion Novak Djokovic by outplaying Lukas Rosol 6-2, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals of the Dubai Open on Thursday.
The mood of Federer's success against the Czech, who famously ousted Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012, was in sharp contrast with his desperate recovery from within sight of defeat against Radek Stepanek on Wednesday.
"If you want to just analyse it within like ten seconds, I think that's what it was. I don't (usually) break somebody eight times and almost lose the match," Federer said, referring to his slide almost to 0-3 down in the final set against Stepanek.
"So I definitely didn't hit my spots as well, as today on my serve. I maybe could argue that Radek is a better return player than Rosol and all these things, but still I did serve much more clutch today when I needed to."
Federer did go 0-2 down at the beginning of Thursday's quarter-final, but hurtled through the next six games, striking the ball beautifully. Federer was happy to go into the match with Djokovic in confident mood.
"For me, it was important also probably not to be out there for three hours," he said. "Then it would have been a disadvantage. But like this, I think it was a good and quick match for me. I guess we're back on even terms for tomorrow."
Federer leads Djokovic 16-15 in their head-to-head record, but has lost the last three.
"We've played each other everywhere and all the surfaces, you name it, so I think we know each other very well," said the Swiss. "I think we always play the match-up very good, because we play explosive, aggressive tennis, so there is always some shot making going on.
"I think it's improved very much over the years. I don't need to say it now because he's proven his point so much, but he's cleaned up his game in all aspects — serves, volleys, movement, anyways, also forehand and backhand.
"I always thought he did have some technical issues at some point in his career, maybe in the very beginning of his career or midway through. He seemed to always find a way. I'm very impressed when it comes to that."
Earlier Djokovic advanced to the semi-finals more quickly than he would have wished when his opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, was taken ill and withdrew.
The sixth-seeded Russian has twice reached the final in Dubai and might have provided a good test for the champion, and he would certainly have preferred to experience that.
Returning to the tour more than five weeks after the loss of his Australian Open title, Djokovic's greatest need is match practice. Instead he approaches his encounter with Federer with little more than two hours court time altogether.
Tomas Berdych increased his chances of reaching the final for a second year in a row when he overcame Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and some painful sun-cream to post a resolutely-taken 6-4, 6-3 win.
The third-seeded Czech hit with solidity in the second set when confronted with four break points against him in the third game and one more in the seventh — although his burning back seemed almost as great an obstacle.
"It wasn't sunburn, it was a wrong application of cream," he said with doleful humour. "I didn't expect to die by burning. For the first four games I was on fire — not on the court, but on my back. So I am glad the physio helped me and I survived it."
Berdych, who has now won 14 of his last 15 matches, next has to survive a semi-final with Philipp Kohlschreiber, the seventh-seeded German, whose tidily aggressive performance ousted Malek Jaziri, the surprise survivor from Tunisia, by 6-2, 6-3.
Arab No1 Malek Jaziri has exited the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the quarter-final stage after a comprehensive beating from seventh seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.
The German eased to victory over his Tunisian counterpart in just 71 minutes on centre court, dropping just five matches in a 6-2, 6-3 win.
Jaziri, who had reached the quarter-final stage for the first time in Dubai with a 6-3, 7-5 win over India’s Somdev Devvarman yesterday, was up against it from the very off after being broken in his first service game.
Kohlschreiber completed a routine first set by breaking Jaziri once more before wrapping things up in the second with consumate ease.
Despite the relative simplicity of the German’s progression Jaziri will take a great deal of heart from his tournament so far.
Having entered as a wildcard for the event and arriving via a 24-hour flight from Mexico just two days before his first round win over Igor Sijsling, Jaziri has impressed in the early rounds en route to a career-best campaign at the event.
World No26 Kohlschreiber will now play the winner of this evening’s tie between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych.
Elsewhere, Novak Djokovic was given an even simpler route to the semis in Dubai as Mikhail Youzhny withdrew, allowing the four-time champion to await either Roger Federer or Lukas Rosol in the last-four.
Every time I watch a Roger Federer match live I always wonder if there’s any bigger character in sport, that individually attracts this kind of attention and admiration.
If the Swiss is on court, crowd mania ensues, along with the Mexican waves and relentless chants.
If you’ve been to the Dubai championships frequently enough, you must have noticed the Federer fan pictured.
Her name is Jane Liardon and she has been to every single match here at the Aviation Club for the past 11 years.
She’s dressed in head-to-toe RF-centric Swiss attire, and spent the entire match yesterday encouraging people around her to cheer on the 17-time major champion.
The interesting thing is, she’s not even Swiss. She is British but her husband is from Switzerland. Look out for her in Federer’s next match today against Lukas Rosol, you’ll realise how her passion is simply contagious.
During the Federer match, I was debating with a friend whether the live music played in the Irish Village outside the stadium actually distracted the players on court.
Federer was asked about it in the press conference and said: “I don't know when it started, but I did hear U2 in the third set. I was hearing the waterfall in the first set behind the royal box, and there was like a fountain or something outside.
"It really depends on your focus a little bit, and the less good you play, the more irritated you become of all these little things.”
Josh makes an impression
An unlikely guest made an appearance at the tournament at the Players’ Party on Tuesday night, and again yesterday at the Aviation Club – Josh Berry, the young YouTube sensation who made waves with his spot on impersonations of tennis players.
Novak Djokovic and tennis commentator David Mercer joined Berry on stage at the party and the world No2 interviewed the talented 17-year-old, who impersonated different players on demand.
From Rafael Nadal to David Ferrer, to Andy Murray to John McEnroe, Berry was a big hit and left Djokovic in a fit of laughter, especially when he imitated Richard Gasquet saying: “I cannot finish a sentence without saying the word backhand."