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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, March 2, 2023


Novak Djokovic maintained his mastery of Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 7-5 streaking into the Dubai semifinals with a perfect 15-0 record in 2023.

Photo credit: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Owning a booming serve and banging backhand, Hubert Hurkacz can be a confounding opponent.

Facing the Marseille champion, Novak Djokovic always has all the answers.

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In a clash of streaking players, Djokovic maintained his mastery of Hurkacz 6-3, 7-5 charging into his 10th Dubai semifinal and remaining undefeated this season

World No. 1 Djokovic raised his record to a perfect 15-0 in 2023, snapping the Pole's six-match winning streak and defeating Hurkacz for the fifth time in as many meetings.

It is the 20th consecutive victory for Djokovic, which includes his 5-0 record during his sweep of his sixth ATP Finals crown in Turin last November.

Continuingh his quest for a sixth Dubai championship and 94th ATP title, Djokovic is off to the fourth best start to a season in his illustrious career. You'll likely remember his staggering 41-0 start in 2011, followed by a 26-0 tear to launch 2020 and a 17-0 mark to begin 2013.

Facing one of the game's most formidable servers who was coming off his sixth title on Sunday, Djokovic out-served Hurkacz winning one more point on first serve (29 to 28) protecting his second serve with greater care and completing a one hour, 21-minute triumph without facing a single break point.

"It was a challenging match as it always is against Hubert," Djokovic said. "One of the best guys on the tour, definitely, fantastic personality, very, very lovable guy. A great relationship with everyone, he's always respectful. I wish him all the best for the rest of the season.

"I think he's got one of the best serves in the game. So in the second set until that 11th game I didn't really have too many chances against his serve. He was winning his service games comfortably. Fortunately, for me I also found the rhythm on my serve throughout the second set and held my serve. Love-30 and 5-4 for him, found a couple of good serves, good plays.

"Really one or two points can always decide the winner of a match like this there is not much that is separating both players. But I'm really really glad with the way I played under pressure."

The top seed played clean tennis striking 20 winners against only 7 unforced errors.

One reason Djokovic has dominanted this match-up is because of his vaunted return game. Another reason is his forehand precision and versatility. Djokovic pounded the Pole's forehand wing early and on pivotal points.

Five-time champion Djokovic will play third-seeded Daniil Medvedev in tomorrow's semifinal that's a rematch of the 2021 US Open final that saw the Russian deny Djokovic's dream of completing the calendar Grand Slam.

In tonight's final quarterfinal, Medvedev converted five of six break points and general ravaged eighth-seeded Borna Coric's serve in a 6-3, 6-2 sweep.

It is Medvedev's 12th consecutive win putting even more prestige in tomorrow's semifinal showdown of streaks. Medvedev is aiming to sweep successive titles in Doha and Dubai.

Tomorrow's other semifinal will pit defending champion Andrey Rublev against Olympic gold-medal champion Alexander Zverev.

Earlier, Rublev ripped nine aces and saved four of five break points beating Botic van der Zandschulp 6-3, 7-6(3).

Ballistic-ball striker Rublev recovered from a set down and saved five match points on Wednesday night against Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina to reach the quarterfinals. With his quarterfinal conquest today, Rublev continues his hunt to become the first back-to-back Dubai champion since Roger Federer in 2015.

Rublev broke in the third game of the second set and seemed on course for a straight-forward win. When Rublev served for the match at 5-4, Van De Zandschulp broke back to level the score then took a 6-5 lead. Rublev regained his composure, holding serve to take the set to a tiebreak and wrapped up a 6-3 7-6 (3) victory with an ace.

Friday’s semifinal promises to be an intriguing encounter between two players born exactly six months apart. Zverev, the elder of the two 25-year-old power players, has won all of their previous five meetings.

“I’ve never beaten him on the ATP Tour so hopefully I can go out there and put on good fight,” said Rublev of Zverev. “I just need to play good, aggressive tennis and we’ll see what happens. He was winning so many great titles before he got injured. He’s a great player, he knows how to play against me, but I know how to play against him so it will be about little details.”

The seventh-seeded Zverev opened today's singles action stopping Lorenzo Sonego 7-5, 6-5 also ending with an exclamatory ace.

“It’s been a difficult period over the past nine months, not playing tennis for such a long period in my life, but today shows the hard work is paying off and I’m pretty happy with what the progress is and how I’m playing,” said Zverev. “I’m happy to be in my first semifinal since June, hopefully it won’t be my last.

“I’ve just had to go back to basics and remember what I can control and that is my serve – the only shot in tennis you can control. It obviously helps that I hit five first serves in a row then the match was over.”

Down love-40 triple break point in his second serve game, Hurkacz showed hard-core resilience and shot-making skill to save break point danger, including an sensational tweener on the second break point.

Djokovic's forehand is heavier than Hurkacz's forehand and the 10-time Australian Open champion danced around his backhand to detonate diagonal forehands. On his third break point, Djokovic blew out the break for a 3-1 lead.

Targeting the Pole's weaker forehand wing, Djokovic drew a pair of forehand misses confirming the break at 30 for 4-1.

On his second set point, Djokovic pumped his first ace of the evening to close the 36-minute opener without facing a break point.

Marseille champion Hurkacz is a fine doubles player and showed his skills closing forward flashing a forehand volley as he sped through strong hold for a 5-4 second-set lead.

Down love-30 in the ensuing game, Djokovic sandwiched crackling forehands line-to-line around a bounce smash from the baseline as he edged ahead 40-30. The world No. 1 withstood his most demanding service game of the set leveling after 10 games.

Credit Hurkacz for continuing to press the attack, but he got burned by Djokovic's brilliance. Shooting a runnign backhand pass from shin height, Djokovic dipped the pass and Hurkacz bumped a backhand volley into the tape to face two break points in the 11th game.

The fifth seed saved both then erased a third break point moving forward. Hurkacz would fend off four break points in all, but Djokovic would not be denied.

Flicking a forehand approach down the line, Djokovic gained a fifth break point.

Engaging his opponent in a backhand exchange, Djokovic stepped in and lasered his two-handed down the line. That clean strike sealed the crucial break and a 6-5 lead.

Djokovic drilled an ace for triple match point then slammed a serve winner wide improving to 15-0 in 2023.

Afterward, Djokovic said his daily walk to the stadium right past rows of exuburent Dubai fans offering high-fives, inspires him.

"Always I appreciate and respect every single tennis fan that comes out to the tournament, every single tournament. Because of them we are able to play tennis on an amazing level and biggest tournaments in the world like this one definitely we would not be able to exist without the tennis fans," Djokovic said. "So I want to thank them for coming out especially to the young fans, young tennis players, young people around that I have seen around.

"This is definitely a joy for my eyes to see young people coming out and wanting to play tennis, wanting to watch tennis. We all try to I guess inspire them and motivate them to grab a racquet."


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