Doha 2017: Day-5. Novak Saves FIVE Match Points

Unquestionably, Friday’s highlight was the defending champion’s recovery from being down a set and a break to Fernando Verdasco, erasing five match points in set-2’s tie-break, then winning it in the decider. It was insane, and understandably a tough loss for Verdasco, who’s played fearless, dominate tennis this week, regardless of opponent.

Andy Murray looked slightly more “zen” in his Semifinal with Tomas Berdych. He was far-less self-deprecating than he’d been during the first three rounds. He had good reason to be less brutal on himself…he perfectly executed his game-plan to take-away Berdych’s new “always attacking” style of play.

In the Doha Doubles Final, the Frenchmen Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin won the 2017 title over Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek; a championship match that will be remembered more for a screwed-up call and Hawkeye misread than the actual play on court.

[2] N. Djokovic (SRB) d F. Verdasco (ESP) 46 76(7) 63

After this win, it was clear to me that the defending champion was pretty pissed off at himself. Here’s the reality, Novak hadn’t lost a hard-court match to Fernando Verdasco since he was 18-years-old, at the 2005 US Open. At the one hour mark in Friday night’s Semifinal, Novak had just dropped three consecutive service games and was down a set and a break. Shocking. Verdasco was playing out of his mind, taking returns early and rag-dolling the defending champ with his punishing forehand. He was completely comfortable staying-with Novak during long rallies. Impressive stuff.

Set-2 brought the theatrics. Novak broke back to level it at 2-all. At 4-all, Novak faced break-point again. He won a ridiculous 26-shot rally to bring it back to deuce and pumped his arms to juice the crowd. Djokovic would earn the hold, but then fall-behind 2-6 in the tie-break. It was Verdasco’s match to win…but he couldn’t put the defending champ away. Novak erased all four match points, then a fifth, before taking the tie-break 9-7. The momentum had shifted. Fernando was flustered. Novak finally won it 6-3 in the third. Incredible effort.

[1] A. Murray (GBR) d [3] T. Berdych (CZE) 63 64

Command and control. Two words that defined Berdych’s play through the first three rounds. He had been agressive all week…charging the net, earning points with hustle and vollies; picking-up easy points with the new service motion. Andy Murray, however, came in well prepared Friday night. The two played a tight one just a few months back in Paris, where Andy won his fourth of five consecutive titles to end the year. He was ready for whatever Tomas would throw at him, and executed an attack of his own while protecting serve the entire match.

While Tomas was able to save two match points in the final game, Murray sealed the win in two and became the first player in the 25-year history of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open to reach the Final four times. Should he win tomorrow, he’ll join Roger Federer as the only two players who’ve won the title three times.

And just like that, the ATP World Tour was gifted with the perfect week-one of the season. 2017 begins as 2016 ended: The top-2 players in the world battling for a championship. Not bad for a little ATP-250 event nestled snuggly by the Arabian Gulf.

J. Chardy / F. Martin d [3] V. Pospisil / R. Stepanek 64 76(3)

Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin really won this title on Thursday, when they upset the #1-seeds Jamie Murray (World #1) and Bruno Soares. Radek Stepanek and Vasek Pospisil didn’t even have to play their Semifinal match. Like Stepanek, both Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco had reached the singles Quarterfinals on Thursday. Just before Almagro’s loss to Andy Murray, Nicolas and Fernando withdrew from the doubles draw, with hopes that Almagro would advance to the Semifinals over the World #1. That didn’t happen. Vasek and Radek got the free pass.

During the match, Martin and Chardy broke Stepanek to go up 4-3, then served-out set-1. On serve, 2-all in the second, Fabrice Martin smacked a forehand that bounced (out of sight) right in front of the umpire’s chair. The ball’s second hop caught the far sideline. I’m sure the linespeople assumed they didn’t have to call it, because the ball was so obviously out. But chair umpire Adel Nour never saw the first bounce because of the positioning of the chair, and having never received an “out” ruling from the linespeople, he awarded the point to the French tandem. Stepanek and Pospisil challenged. In the Hawk-Eye review, the first bounce was never recorded…only the “IN” call on the second bounce. Yikes. Fans went nuts…as did Stepanek. After several minutes of back and forth, Martin and Chardy finally conceded the point and we moved on, averting what would have most likely been an uncomfortable trophy ceremony.

In the end, Martin and Chardy won their first title together in a second-set tie-break.

Updated Singles Draw | Completed Doubles Draw | Day 6 Order of Play