World No. 5 Rafael Nadal will attempt to capture his first ATP World Tour hard-court title in two years on Saturday when he faces top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the Qatar Open final.
“I know if I’m playing well, I am going to have opportunities,” Nadal said.
The top seeds will meet for a record 47th time on the ATP Tour. The series is currently tied 23-all, with Djokovic winning the past four matches.
Nadal, who won the 2014 title, booked a place in his 99th tour-level final (67-31 record) by beating World No. 94 Illya Marchenko 6-3, 6-4 in 78 minutes.
“I did a few good things, and I’m happy with the victory, being in the first final of the season in the first official tournament is something great,” Nadal said. “For sure it’s important for my confidence, confirming that the end of the 2015 season had been something realistic and (in) the beginning of 2016 I (am) still playing well.”
Djokovic improved his record against Tomas Berdych to 22-2 by downing the Czech 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the semifinals. Djokovic dropped serve in the opening game of the match, but did not falter on serve the rest of the way and closed out the win in just under two hours.
“This is exactly how I want to start the year, playing in the finals of the first tournament against one of my biggest rivals and I’m looking forward to that,” Djokovic said. “It always represents a great challenge to play Nadal because of the fact that we have played so many times for the trophies.”
Roger Federer, still battling a flu bug, held off Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4 and take his title defense into the semifinals at the Brisbane International in Australia.
The win sets up a semifinal match with Austrian Dominic Thiem while the man he beat in last year’s final, Milos Raonic, takes on Bernard Tomic in the other semifinal on Saturday.
“It was tough. Grigor’s a great shot-maker, the future’s ahead of him in the game,” said Federer, a 17-time major winner
The Swiss dropped just two points on serve through the first set, but Federer showed signs of fatigue in the second.
“I’m not going to tell you too much, but it was tough in a way,” Federer said of his illness. “Body is not quite ready, so it’s good to get through it without any issues.”
Thiem, 22, beat third-seeded Marin Cilic 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 and was hoping to play Federer.
“It’s for every young player an amazing experience to play with probably the greatest of all time,” Thiem said. “You can learn so many things from him.”
The other semifinal will feature 2015 finalist Raonic, a 6-4, 6-4 winner over No. 78-ranked Lucas Pouille, against Tomic.
Tomic ended 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori’s streak of three straight semifinal appearances at Brisbane with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 win.