Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych face off in the final of the Dubai Championships on Saturday, with both players looking to build on what have been strong starts to the new year.
Since a first-round loss to Ivo Karlovic at the Qatar Open, Berdych has been on a solid run. He lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinal of the Australian Open—which Wawrinka went on to win—and then won the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Who wins the final?
Federer also made the semifinal in Melbourne, Australia, losing in straight sets to Rafael Nadal. Prior to that, he had lost in the final of the Brisbane International to Lleyton Hewitt.
There won't be any major surprises in this match—you pretty much know what to expect from each guy.
Federer has been on the decline for some time now, but he's still capable of winning these kinds of tournaments and beating players of Berdych's level. Berdych, on the other hand, has been sitting in that class of players below Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for some time.
Here's a quick preview for Saturday's final.
When: Saturday, March 1; not before 7 p.m. GST (10 a.m. EST)
Where: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Centre; Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Watch: Tennis Channel
Live Stream: TennisTV.com
Federer owns the head-to-head record 11-6, but that number is a bit deceiving. He won eight of the first nine meetings between the two. As Federer has hit his late 20s and early 30s, Berdych has leveled the playing field a bit.
The Czech star was victorious in the last two matchups—the last one, coincidentally, came at last year's Dubai Tennis Championship. Berdych lost the first set 3-6. He won a second-set tiebreak and then edged out Federer in the third, 6-4.
This should be a very evenly matched encounter.
How They Got Here
Until the semifinals, Federer had a relatively easy road. No. 8 Dmitry Tursunov was the only seeded player in his quarter, and the Russian was dumped out in the second round by Lukas Rosol, taking him out of the conversation.
Fed had some trouble with Radek Stepanek in the second round, winning in three sets, but it was an otherwise easy trek to the semis.
Then came the date with Djokovic. Federer had lost his last three matches against Djokovic coming in, so the chances weren't good that he'd be playing on Saturday. However, he prevailed in three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
For the first time in his career, Federer has defeated two top-five players before March, per Josh Meiseles of ATPWorldTour.com:
For the first time in his career, Roger Federer has defeated two Top 5 players before March.— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) February 28, 2014
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated called it Federer's best win since taking home the Wimbledon crown in 2012:
Best win for Federer since….?— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) February 28, 2014
You get the feeling that Federer has one last Grand Slam title run in the tank, and maybe 2014 is when it happens.
Berdych had a slightly tougher road, if only because he had to knock off two seeded players from the quarterfinals on.
Marius Copil went down easy in the first round, as did Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second. Then in the quarters, Berdych faced off with No. 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He's had success against the Frenchman in the past, but the way in which he knocked off Tsonga was a bit surprising. Berdych didn't surrender a single service break, winning 6-4, 6-3.
He had a slightly tougher time with Philipp Kohlschreiber. Both players served extremely well, but it was Berdych who served better, getting broken only once, while breaking Kohlschreiber on four occasions.
"It feels absolutely great," Berdych said "I am pleased with today because it was a really tough win. It's a pleasure getting to the final again here, a tournament which has such a strong field.
"My rhythm is much better than it was. It is important for me to be hitting the ball nicely and then my game really works."
Although Berdych has the recent edge against Federer, with the way the 17-time Grand Slam champion is playing at the moment, he may be primed for one last great run.