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Novak Djokovic storms into Tel Aviv Open final with impressive win over Roman Safiullin


Novak Djokoic progressed into the final of the Tel Aviv Open with an impressive win over Roman Safiullin. The Serbian came through a challenging second set to make his third final of the year with a commanding 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) victory over the Russian.

The former world number one flew out of the blocks and within the blink of an eye, he was leading the first set 4-0. His Russian opponent, facing the tennis legend for the first time, felt the pressure as he seemed to be rushing his shots and tried to end the points rather swiftly.

To have any chance of defeating Djokovic, it is critical that opponents try to take his time away and not allow him to settle. However, this approach resulted in 13 unforced errors for the 25-year-old, compared to just three from the world number six, who wrapped up the first set 6-1 in under half an hour.

Despite making 79% of his first serves, Safiullin won just over 50% of his first serves and a lowly 17% off his second delivery, which are poor stats against anyone let alone one of the greatest of all time. To his credit, the world number 104 won the opening game of the second set with a sweet volley to finish the game.

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The pair remained on serve for the first four games of the set, and the Serbian let out a roar en route to holding serve to make it two games apiece. Safiullin, competing in his second semi-final of the season, was beginning to find more consistency with his aggressive groundstrokes as he grew in confidence.

He was also making better use of his serve as his percentage of first serve points increased to over 60%. After the Russian had taken a 3-2 lead, to the gasp of the crowd he took a tumble in the following game while at 15-15 on Djokovic’s serve, but still managed to complete the return and avoid an injury.

He continued to apply the pressure on his opponent’s serve and Safiullin missed an opportunity to win his first break point after shanking a backhand wide. However, one soon followed as a fortunate net cord and missed backhand from Djokovic saw him needing to save a breakpoint for the first time in the match, which he did with an emphatic ace to claw it back to deuce.

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After another missed backhand, Djokovic was forced to save another breakpoint and once again, an ace did the trick. Some more clutch serving saw Djokovic keep hold of serve to level the second set at 3-3. In the ninth game of the set, having been down 40-15, Djokovic forced his opponent back to deuce.

After the Serbian carved out a breakpoint, a deep return set up the point and pushing his opponent on the backfoot, he finished the point at the net to move 5-4 ahead and serve for the match. But Djokovic unexpectedly lost his serve, completed by a double fault on break point. After a quick hold, the tennis legend now found himself serving to stay in the set and force a tiebreak, which he achieved without any hiccups.

At 2-1 in the tiebreak, Safiullin, who had been very solid throughout the second set, began to unravel as the Russian played a tentative forehand which went long, before serving an untimely double fault to give Djokovic a 4-1 lead. There were no more mistakes from Djokovic as an ace sealed a 7-3 victory in the tiebreak to record another important victory. He will face 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic or France’s Constant Lestienne in tomorrow’s final.



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