Roger Federer moved within two wins of a 100th career singles title with victory over Marton Fucsovics at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The 37-year-old, who is bidding to become only the second man to reach a century of tour-level tournament wins after Jimmy Connors, saw off Fucsovics 7-6 6-4 in the quarter-finals at the Aviation Club.
Federer will now face sixth seed Borna Coric for a place in a 10th final of an event he has won seven times.
Federer, winner of 20 grand slams, found the going tough against Fucsovics and faced two set points against him in the first set tie-break.
The Hungarian showed nerves and netted twice, allowing Federer to recover and take the lead but there was no procession to victory.
Federer broke early in the second set but Fucsovics broke back to level at 4-4.
The next game was briefly interrupted by rain but Federer eventually battled through it to claim what proved to be the crucial break from his fifth break point.
Croatia’s Coric earned his place in the last four by edging out Nikoloz Basilashvili 4-6 6-2 7-6.
Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the last four with a hard-fought 7-6 6-7 6-1 win over Hubert Hurkacz.
Tsitipas, who won a second ATP Tour title in Provence last week, will face in-form Gael Monfils, recent victor in Rotterdam.
Monfils ensured he will move back into the world’s top 20 next week as he beat Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis 6-1 6-7 6-2.
Roger Federer enters Friday’s Dubai semi-finals looking to turn the table on Borna Coric after losing to the 22-year-old Croat in their last two showdowns.
The first time Federer took on Coric was in Dubai four years ago. The then teenaged Coric had just defeated a third-ranked Andy Murray in the previous round before losing easily to Federer in the semis.
Last season, Federer and Coric squared off three times, with the Swiss edging through a close three-setter in Indian Wells and his younger opponent pulling off the upset in the Halle final and the Shanghai semis later in the year.
“He’s really found his game. I remember when he came up, I played him here actually. Then also he beat Murray here, beat Rafa in Basel. That year he really made a steep ascent. Then he struggled for a while, then found his game again,” said Federer of the 13th-ranked Coric.
“We’ve had a couple tough matches as of late. He beat me on a few of those occasions. I think we’re 2-2 in the last four maybe. I’m happy for Borna to have really understood his game. That’s really important at the top level if you want to win the big tournaments, which he has now.”
Between his rough late-night scheduling and tough road to the semis, Borna Coric has been such a trooper so far this week, showing so much fight:
R1 7-5 3-6 7-6(4) 🆚 Vesely in 2hr 49min
R2 1-6 6-1 7-6(4) 🆚 Berdych in 2hr 13min
QF 4-6 6-2 7-6(1) 🆚 Basilashvili in 2hr 27min
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 28, 2019
Coric has had a brutal week so far in the Emirates, battling through three final-set tiebreaks in as many days, to book a spot in the semi-finals.
His latest gruelling affair ended at 1:00am in Dubai early Friday morning at the expense of Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Stefanos Tsitsipas is one match-win away from making his top-10 debut and the 20-year-old admits he is thinking about that potential milestone “every day”.
Tsitsipas extended his winning streak to seven consecutive matches on Thursday with a hard-earned 7-6(4), 6-7(1), 6-1 success against Hubert Hurkacz in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals.
The young Greek arrived late to Dubai after winning the Marseille title last Sunday but has managed to keep up his form to set up a semi-final showdown with Gael Monfils, who is on a winning streak of his own, having lifted the trophy in Rotterdam earlier this month, before making the last-four in the Emirates, making it eight victories in a row for the Frenchman.
“What it means? I’m thinking about it almost every day,” Tsitsipas said with a smile about the prospect of breaking the top-10 for the first time.
“I want it badly. I want it to happen very much. I know I’ll have to win a couple of crucial matches to get there. The point difference is pretty big. I’m going to have to dominate more.
“It’s a good motivation because I’m so close, to get it as early as possible. Me personally, I feel like I have the game to be there already, maybe even in the future, but as soon as possible. It’s better if it happens as soon as possible.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas on his social media fast:
“I was just sick & tired of all those messages, all those people talking about me. All the notifications, like, I felt my brain blocked. I felt like I couldn’t process all of that information coming to me”pic.twitter.com/Iz7Wya94TY
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 26, 2019
Before the start of this season, Tsitsipas told Sport360 during his training block in Dubai he had four main goals for 2019: Reaching a Grand Slam semi-final, cracking the top-10, winning a Masters 1000 title and qualifying for the year-end ATP Finals in London.
He already crossed the first goal off of his bucket list when he reached the semis at the Australian Open last month and is now ever so close to checking the second item on that list.
Having such lofty goals can sometimes apply added pressure to a player but Tsitsipas seems to thrive on ambition and has amassed an impressive 14-4 win-loss record just eight weeks into the new year.
“I had a great preseason in Dubai this year. I was confident I can do well because I worked a lot. I was not sure if my rivals or the rest of the players were working that hard on court every single day. I felt like I was doing a great job,” explained Tsitsipas.
“It was part of my goals, to practice so hard and do fitness every day, hours and hours on the court, loading. That actually helped me with my confidence, knowing that I worked hard. I’m starting the new season dynamic.”
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 22, 2018
Tsitsipas is 1-1 head-to-head against Monfils, and lost their most recent meeting in the Sofia quarter-finals earlier this month.
Monfils will be contesting his third consecutive semi-final in 2019 and is 12-2 win-loss this season.
“I think it’s a different match now. We’re not playing in altitude with heavy balls. It’s completely different. The court is pretty slow,” Tsitsipas said of his upcoming semi-final against Monfils.
“We’re both serving really well. We have similar game style. I guess I’m a bit more aggressive than him, but he’s much faster. I’m going to have to deal with all of that, be patient, play with passion as well, just wait for the opportunities to break him.
“I think I’m going to have to serve well. Is it tomorrow? Yeah, tomorrow. I think I’m going to have to serve well to win that match. If I don’t serve well, I’ll have trouble.”
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 27, 2019