Rafael Nadal destroyed Illya Marchenko in the semi-final of the 2016 Qatar ExxonMobil Open on Friday as the icon prevailed in style, winning 6-3, 6-4 to set up a sumptuous final with Novak Djokovic.
The Spaniard was at his most destructive and confident early in the match, and the Ukrainian struggled to keep the pace with his opponent. Djokovic was not at his best as he defeated Tomas Berdych in straight sets, earning a 6-3, 7-6 victory in a scrappy display by his standards.
Nadal will feature in his 99th career final when he battles the world's top player, per Fox Sports.
The final is scheduled to take place from 3 p.m. G.M.T on Saturday, and promises to be an exciting affair.
Here are the scores from the semi-final contests on Friday:
|Rafael Nadal||6-3, 6-4||Illya Marchenko|
|Novak Djokovic||6-3, 7-6||Tomas Berdych|
Nadal set off at a frightening pace as he eased to a solid win against Marchenko in Doha. The legend dealt with his opponent's big serve, using his experience and full repertoire to nullify a large part of Marchenko's attack.
The two players had not faced each other before, and the world No. 94 had no answer to Nadal's early onslaught.
The Spaniard took the first set in little over half-an-hour as he won 100 per cent of first service points, according to Tennis24.com.
Nadal took the first three games as he created distance between himself and Marchenko, who was failing to show his form from earlier in the tournament.
The Ukrainian recovered to hold serve for the rest of the first set, but the damage was done as he conceded ground to the legend.
Nadal appeared relaxed in the second as he continued a fine display, but he had no need to slip into top gear to battle his way to the win.
At 2-2 in the second, Marchenko dropped his serve to the Spaniard, and Nadal didn't need anymore of an invite to drive to the finish line as the crowd cheered wildly for the popular world No. 5.
Radio Marca's Pau Ferragut commented on Nadal's consistency:
#Nadal has won 22 first service points in a row against Marchenko. I can't remember if it's the first time in his career. Amazing!— Pau Ferragut (@PauFerragut) January 8, 2016
Solid on service, hitting aggressive near the line and trying to play deep & heavy shots. That's the way we want to see #Nadal on court.— Pau Ferragut (@PauFerragut) January 8, 2016
The Spaniard's backhand was much-improved from the quarter-final as he controlled his power and accuracy, and he competed the job 6-3, 6-4 to proceed to the final.
After the match, Nadal commented on his fine performance, as quoted by tennis columnist Reem Abulleil:
It was a tale of two halves for Djokovic in his opening set against Berdych, as he produced both the ridiculous and the sublime.
The Serbian inexplicably dropped his serve in the opening game of the first, as Berdych raced to a 3-1 lead.
However, the world No. 1 burst into life from an early abject performance to power through the next five games, winning the set 6-3 after breaking the Czech twice.
Despite the amazing comeback, Djokovic continued to struggle with his game, but Berdych couldn't exploit his rival's bad day at the office.
The second set continued with serve, giving Berdych a 3-2 lead, but the Serbian looked uncomfortable throughout.
Djokovic plugged away as his opponent exhorted pressure, and managed to stay in the set—taking the score to 5-5. Berdych powered through to impressively take his own service game, and once again put the multiple Grand Slam winner back on his heels. However, the Serb survived to force the tie-break, as his opponent went close to levelling the scores.
Djokovic took the first four points of the tie-break, and once again shifted gears after a workmanlike set. The world's top player produced an academic display to pull himself over the line, taking the tie-break 7-3, completing a 6-3, 7-6 win that was tainted by unusual errors.
Nadal has fought hard to reproduce his best form after injury and has proved in Doha he is close to his top Grand Slam conditioning.
It was the player's best serving performance for a number of months, and he will feel he has enough in the tank to capture the Qatar Open title
However, Djokovic looked well off the pace on Friday, and could have lost to Berdych if he had not managed to produce two important bursts of form in both individual sets.
The Serbian's pedigree means he can find an extra gear in Saturday's final, but Nadal will truly believe he can claim the title in his 99th career final.