Djokovic sows title seeds

The defending champion showed his battling qualities as he refused to follow the trend of disappointing big-name exits.

DUBAI // Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, last night refused to follow the trend of disappointing big-name exits from this year's Dubai Championship and instead demonstrated the battling qualities that brought him grand slam honours in Australia two years ago. After six of the eight seeds had departed - world No 1 Roger Federer without hitting a ball - before he went on court for his quarter-final, Djokovic looked sure to join the exodus as he initially struggled to find the form that swept him to glory here a year ago.

The Serbian, who announced before striking a ball here that it was about time he made a successful defence of one of his titles for the first time in 17 attempts, looked like having to rue making that bold statement as he was almost steamrollered off court by an inspired Ivan Ljubicic. The oldest player in the draw at 30, rolled back the years in the first set and he looked unstoppable as he stunned the world No 2 with the quality of his all-round play.

Five games in a row from 1-2 put the veteran, winner of nine titles in a distinguished career on and off the court, in total command and left Djokovic wondering what had hit him. A combination of unreachable serves, some of them approaching the 220kph mark on the on-court speed gun, and penetrative ground strokes left Djokovic powerless to prevent the opening set flashing by in only 32 minutes Djokovic, who had retrieved a similarly unfavourable situation in the previous round to eliminate his compatriot Viktor Troicki, never accepts his fate until it is sealed, however and was as dominant at the end of the 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 contest as his opponent had been at the start of it.

The second seed had to wait until the 10th game of the second set for his first break points but when they eventually came he put baseline pressure on his opponent who crucially put a forehand wide to bring the contest back to equality. Ljubicic, who had squandered two chances of his own on the Djokovic serve to take what would probably have been a decisive 4-3 lead, was noticeably deflated after that.

The Monte Carlo-based Croatian, who has maintained a respectable ranking of 26 after declining slowly from a career high position of three in May 2006, sensed that the tide had turned and when he dropped his opening service game of the deciding set it was almost a torrent coming at him. Djokovic endorsed that valuable break by holding easily for a 3-0 lead and when Ljubicic buckled again under the pressure of trying to reproduce his early serving power Djokovic took full advantage. A tired double fault presented Djokovic which a 4-0 lead and just as the Serbian had looked a forlorn figure in that one-sided opening set, Ljubicic gave the impression in the sad closing moments that he could not wait for his torture to end. He did not have to wait long. wjohnson@thenational.ae