Defending tournament champion Roger Federer is off to a strong start at the 2013 ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in the United Arab Emirates, cruising through the final two sets against Malek Jaziri to win in three sets, advancing comfortably into the second round.
Unfortunately for Fed, he'll have to get past the best men's player on the planet this week in order to claim his first singles title of 2013. Novak Djokovic enters Dubai as the top-seeded player and the favorite to take home the crown at the hard-court event. He won this event three straight times from 2009 to 2011.
Djokovic and Federer have yet to play each other this season, and although it's no guarantee that they'll meet in Saturday's final, it's certainly the most likely matchup.
But before Fed can clash with Djokovic this weekend, he'll likely have to take on some other top-ranked stars including sixth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic (would meet in the quarters) and third-seeded Tomas Berdych (would meet in the semis), two of the more notable players on his side of the draw.
Berdych earned a huge victory over Fed in the quarterfinals of last September's 2012 U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows. So a potential semifinal meeting with Berdych on Friday would be anything but a given. Still, while Fed may be on the decline, he's still among the elite and boasts the shot-making prowess to get past Berdych in Dubai.
That brings us to Saturday's final. Most, including myself, like Fed and Djokovic to meet up for the title. The advantage will lie with Djokovic, however, as he's yet to drop a singles match in 2013. Plus, at 25, Nole is six years younger than Fed and playing in his prime.
Both players are strong on hard courts, but Djokovic's style of play blends seamlessly with the surface. He's relentless in defense and lethal when he comes to the net. I'm well aware of Fed's greatness, but nothing he's shown us thus far this season suggests he'll take two sets from Djokovic.
It's a matter of when, not if, Federer breaks through this year. But don't expect that when to be this weekend in Dubai.
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