Doha, Qatar: Novak Djokovic had said he had a couple of gears in reserve after his surprisingly tight match against Nikoloz Basilashvili in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals on Friday, he was again far from his best, for a while but that looked enough for a victory against seventh seed Roberto Bautista Agut as the Spaniard seemed content with playing the supporting role to his superstar opponent.
Djokovic was cruising, as he took the first set without breaking a sweat and had broken the seventh seed to go 4-3 up in the second.
That was when Bautista Agut found his extra gear as he broke the Serb right back before winning the game in the tie-break while Djokovic took his frustration out on his hapless racquet, smashing it into the bright blue surface three times and leaving it a broken, tangled mess.
Djokovic’s game was even more tangled all of a sudden and Bautista Agut broke him in the second game, never looking back after that to take the third set and complete a 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory in two hours and 35 minutes.
“I will remember this match for my life, said an ecstatic Bautista Agut. “It was an unbelievable atmosphere. I work every day to play this tennis and it’s so difficult and that is why Djokovic is No.1 in the world. I cannot be more happy than now.”
Bautista Agut will take on big-serving Czech Tomas Berdych after the 33-year-old beat fourth seed Marco Cecchinato of Italy 7-6(6), 6-3.
Earlier, Djokovic was off the blocks in a hurry as Bautista Agut could do nothing much despite his best efforts.
A backhand passing shot down the line gave Djokovic the first game and set the tone for the set.
Bautista Agut, who found his serve under pressure right at the start, sent his forehand wide to hand the Serb his first break.
Though the Spaniard won his next three service games, Djokovic pocketed the set when he held his serve in the ninth game.
The pattern of the match continued to be the same at the start of the second game until Djokovic broke the world No.24 in the seventh game.
But his hopes of comfortably closing down the match suffered a huge set back when Bautista Agut played his best points in the next game in which Djokovic was completely outplayed.
All of a sudden the usually cool and composed Djokovic looked like a John McEnroe in disguise as he destroyed his racquet.
Though Djokovic himself wiped the remains of the racquet from the court with his towel, he had lost his nerve as Bautista Agut held his serve with some degree of authority unseen in his game until then.
Djokovic was in danger of being broken again in his next two service games and although he saved three set points to take it to the tie-break, Bautista Agut had got the measure of his opponent. A weak backhand into the net from World No.1 gave Bautista Agut a mini break at 6-5 and his fourth set point. Though Djokovic saved it he could not stop the Spaniard, who was the better player by a distance in the second set, from taking it.
Djokovic’s day became worse in the third set when he lost his serve in the second game.
Bautista Agut was by far the better player by now and unless Djokovic came up with something special there would be no stopping him.
Djokovic is the world No.1 not only because of his forehand and backhand shots but also thanks to his ability to come back from losing positions. Except there was no fightback this time. He was playing his seventh match in four days and it seemingly had taken a toll.
It also seemed that surprisingly, it was the mind, not the body, which was unwilling.
Not that Bautista Agut cared. He held on to his service games and served for the match at 5-4. And when Djokovic’s forehand fell on the net at match point, he celebrated his most famous victory.