Dubai – Novak Djokovic advanced to the semi-finals of the Dubai Open more quickly than he would have wished when his opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, was taken ill and withdrew on Thursday.
The sixth-seeded Russian had twice reached the final in Dubai and would have provided a good test for the seven-time Grand Slam champion from Serbia, and Djokovic would certainly have preferred to experience that.
Returning to the tour more than five weeks since the loss of his Australian Open title, his greatest need is match practice.
However, he approaches a possible semi-final meeting with Roger Federer after little more than two hours court time from two encounters.
Djokovic was pleased enough with his performance after a very routine 6-1, 6-3 win on Wednesday against Roberto Bautista Agut, a Spaniard just outside the top 50, and suggested that accumulated knowledge helped make up for ring rustiness.
“The experience that I have playing, you know, the top players for many years helps me to understand what I need to do and what kind of approach I need to have,” he said.
Nevertheless a maximum possible four matches here is less than he wanted going into the back-to-back high prestige American hard court tournaments, in Indian Wells and Miami, which can be physically and mentally very demanding.
Djokovic's greatest gain so far has possibly been the working relationship between his long-time coach Marian Vajda, and his new coaching consultant, Boris Becker, the six time former Grand Slam winner from Germany.
Djokovic originally admitted that this arrangement was “a potential risk”, but here he has been more upbeat about it.
“They are getting along really well,” he claimed. “That means a lot to me, because Marian is more than just a coach to me.
“He's like a friend, like a brother. We have a very good and friendly relationship. We shared a lot of good and bad moments in my life, in my career. So he knows me really well.
“And Boris, you know, when he was joining the team, obviously he had some meetings with myself and with the rest of the team, especially with Marian, to try to understand, you know, who I am as a person, as a player. That's an important thing.
“Obviously now they are working together, you know. Whatever he's trying to work on, you know, he discusses with all of us, and, of course, we all have a big respect for Boris.
“I'm really glad that he's in the team, and I feel like he can contribute in a positive way to my game and to my mental approach on the court,” Djokovic concluded, without specifying what these contributions were.
Later Djokovic was joined in the semi-finals by Philipp Kohlschreiber, the sixth-seeded German who capitalised on the withdrawal of the injured second-seeded Juan Martin Del Potro by winning 6-2, 6-3 against Malek Jaziri, the wild card from Tunisia.
Kohlschreiber will play the winner between Tomas Berdych, the in-form third-seeded Czech, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the fifth-seeded Frenchman who contested the Marseille final on Sunday.
Djokovic will meet the winner of the fourth-seeded Federer, who holds a record five titles here, and Lukas Rosol, an unseeded Czech who was the surprise conqueror of Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012. – Sapa-AFP