Doha, Qatar: Novak Djokovic showed his defensive qualities and his ability to win despite being second best in terms of winners yet again as he survived the onslaught of Nikoloz Basilashvili, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to book his place in the semifinal of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open on Thursday.
At the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, Basilashvili started the match in the best possible way, with an emphatic break of Djokovic’s serve.
The Georgian broke Djokovic again in the fifth game — attacking the Serb’s weak second serve for a stunning forehand winner and then forcing a forehand error from the world No.1 to go 4-1 up.
Djokovic broke back in the very next game, steadied himself to make it 4-3, and put in a superb defensive display to almost break Basilashvili again.
But the world No.21, who is definitely on his way up, held his next two service games to win the set 6-4.
In the second set, Djokovic broke his opponent early to go 2-0 up and held his serve twice to go 5-3 ahead.
Serving for the set, Djokovic had to bank on his defense once again and a 33-shot rally in which Basilashvili was always on the front foot before cracking under pressure was a perfect example of the Serb’s ability to fight his way out of difficult situations.
Djokovic broke Basilashvili right at the start of the third game and the 26-year old came back right at him to make it 1-1.
The two-time champion in Doha broke his opponent in the fifth game for a decisive 3-2 lead, and Basilashvili took his frustration out on one of his spare rackets, stomping it to a mess.
Djokovic had got what he was looking for, and he calmly held on to his serves for a fighting victory.
The 31-year old 14 time Grand Slam champion, who later partnered his brother in the doubles — which they lost to France's Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Belgium's David Goffin 6-1, 3-6, 15-13 — his sixth match in three days, said he has not hit his top gear yet.
"I feel I have a gear or two up still. I can still get to one or two levels up, but I thought under the circumstances I managed to find a way to win against a player that is hitting the ball very fast and just being very aggressive and it's hard to predict where the ball is going to go with a player like him," said Djokovic.
"So you kind of have to be, you know, be alert at the same time when the chances present to take the control. Easier said than done because he was really hitting the ball fast from back of the court so he was not giving me a lot of time to manipulate, maneuver from back of the court so many times I find myself in the defense. You know, I managed to get a win which is what matters," Djokovic aaded.
As for Basilashvili — whom Robin Hasse predicted to be the dark horse of the tournament — he has done his reputation of being a player in hot form no harm, and his shot-making abilities is going to get him more admirers and win him plenty of matches.
Djokovic will take on Roberta Bautista Agut after the seventh seed ended Stan Wawrinka’s campaign with a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Though Wawrinka fired seven aces, it was his error-strewn serve that let him down.
World No.24 Bautista Agut played a solid game and converted one break point each in both sets which was enough for a comfortable victory.
Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic will take on Italy's Marco Cecchinato in the other semifinal.
While Berdych defeated France's Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-2, 6-4, Cecchinato beat Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 7-6 (7-2), 6-2.