Abu Dhabi: World No 1 Novak Djokovic rallied from a set down to registered a hard-fought 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory after a two-hour-and-14-minute duel against defending champion and World No 6 Kevin Anderson to clinch the Mubadala Tennis Championship at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex on Saturday.
This was Djokovic’s record equaling fourth title at the capital tournament with the previous victories coming in row — 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Spanish ace Rafael Nadal has also won the tournament four times.
“A little bit exhausted, I must say. It has been a great quality tennis against Kevin. He has been playing some great tennis for the past 15 months. Both didn’t expect the encounter to go well close to two and half hours, battling it out just before the season starts. It is an amazing way to kick off the season,” said an elated Djokovic at the post-match presentation.
“Every year is a big year and it just depends on how you approach it and I’m looking forward for whatever is ahead of me,” said the Serb, who made his intentions clear by starting with an ace in the first game and wrapped it up at love to take an early lead in the first set.
Anderson, too, served with power and precision to match Djoko stroke by stroke.
In the fourth game, Anderson’s serve came under a bit of pressure after his forehand return landed on the net and handed a breakpoint to Djokovic.
The South African, however, held his nerve to come out of it unscathed.
The match then went on serves till the eighth game before Djokovic, following an unforced error and a brilliant cross court return by Anderson, was broken in the ninth game.
Anderson then held his serve in the 10th at 40-15 to clinch the first set at 6-4.
With that success, Anderson had clearly grown in confidence going into the second set.
But that doesn’t mean Djokovic didn’t have his chances. He got a breakpoint in the fourth game after the forehand return from Anderson found the net.
Djokovic couldn’t make it count and Anderson escaped with the help of his power-packed serves. After going on serves till the 11th game, another opportunity was tossed up for Djokovic in the 12th to stay in the contest.
Two set points and Djokovic was too good to miss out and it was one set all.
In the decisive third set, Djokovic’s serves were under the pump but he saved a break point with a brilliant cross court return that stayed just in and then fired an ace to go 2-1 up.
After going on serves till the ninth, Anderson found himself in deep trouble in the 10th.
He handed Djokovic three championship points but held his nerve to save all of them.
The third one was a complete miscue from Djokovic – sending the ball long even as Anderson was rooted fearing the worse.
Anderson saved one of the two championship points in the 12th game but Djokovic completed the victory on the second following a long rally that ended with a brilliant crosscourt return.
In the exhibition match played earlier in the day, Karen Khachanov defeated Dominic Thiem 6-3, 4-6, 10-3 following a tie-break.
This was the second successive win for the Russian over Thiem as he had beaten the latter in the quarter-finals as well on Thursday.
Khachanov was scheduled to play in the play-off for third place but with Rafael Nadal pulled out following his loss to Kevin Anderson on Friday and the organisers managed to rope in Thiem for the contest.