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Djokovic wins from a set down again, beats Khachanov to book final meeting with Rublev

Novak Djokovic. Photo credit: Serbia Open Facbeook

By Ricky Dimon

Novak Djokovic has found the recipe for success at the Serbia Open: lose the first set.

Djokovic did exactly that for the third time in as many matches on Saturday afternoon, and for the third time he recovered to win in three. The world No. 1 overcame Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 after one hour and 59 minutes to book a spot in the title tilt.

In rounds two and three it was fellow Serbs who failed to close out Djokovic from winning positions. Both Laslo Djere and Miomir Kecmanovic led by a set and a break over their compatriot, but they could not convert. This time it was Khachanov, who did not even come close to finishing the job in either the second or the third set. Belgrade’s No. 3 seed lost five straight games during the middle frame of play and it was all but over for him when he went down 2-0 in the decider. Once Djokovic seized momentum, he produced his best level of the week the rest of the way–refusing to let Khachanov back in it.

“All three matches were key matches for me, to be honest,” said Djokovic, who is playing in just his third tournament of an abbreviated 2022 campaign. “Again I started not that great, losing the first set. I was a break down today as I was in the first two matches of the tournament. I think as soon as the second set started I was just feeling the ball and started swinging through particularly the backhand, which wasn’t working in the first set.

“I was serving well, dictating the play (in the)second and third sets, the best two sets of the season so far for me and against a really quality tennis player. Khachanov is playing well, so it’s an important win. Of course, any win is important for me at the moment. Playing at home with the unbelievable support from the crowd always gives me goosebumps and the motivation to play my best and fight until the end.”

The end of what has been an entertaining event will feature the top two seeds in Sunday’s final. No. 2 Andrey Rublev followed up Djokovic’s performance with a 6-2, 6-2 beatdown of No. 6 Fabio Fognini. Rublev needed only one hour and three minutes to advance, and he has won six consecutive sets heading into the championship match.

“It’s going to be fun,” the 24-year-old assured. “Tomorrow I have nothing to lose; I can go and enjoy it. He will play at home; it will be his moment. So the best I can do is fight and try to do my best.”

Rublev is bidding for his third title of the season, having triumphed back-to-back in Marseille and Dubai a couple of months ago. This will be just their second head-to-head meeting. Djokovic dominated their first encounter 6-3, 6-2 at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.