By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Top-ranked Novak Djokovic lost for the first time this season, beaten by Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5 Friday in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships. Djokovic had been on a 10-match winning streak that included the Australian Open title.
In the final, Murray will play Roger Federer, who edged Juan Martin del Potro 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6). Del Potro lost four set points in the second-set tiebreaker at 6-2, with Federer winning the last six points. Federer will be going for his fifth Dubai title, but his first in five years.
This was a big boost for Murray, who lost to Djokovic in five sets in the Australian Open semifinals.
"Hopefully, that will set me up well for the year," Murray said. "Confidence in tennis and almost any individual sport is so important."
Murray had lost seven of the last 11 matches against Djokovic, who was bidding for a fourth straight Dubai title. But the Scotsman made it look easy at the Aviation Club.
"I was fighting for it, but, you know, Andy played a great match," Djokovic said. "He was the better player today. He was serving really well."
Murray broke to go up 4-2 in the first set and saved two break points to make it 5-2. He used a stellar serve, winning 94 percent of his first service points in the first set and 85 percent overall.
"The first set I served very well and was aggressive when I had my chances," Murray said. "In the second set, he started going for more and making mistakes because it's tough to always grind out matches."
Murray had a 3-0 advantage in the second set and led 5-3 while serving for the match. But Djokovic broke Murray for the first time and tied it at 5-all. Murray won the final two games, breaking Djokovic to win the match when the Serb sent a forehand long.
Murray felt his nearly five-hour loss to Djokovic in Australia paid dividends Friday, especially in the second set.
"The thing you learn after a match like that is how much you need to sort of suffer on the court to win matches like that, and also how important it is," he said.
Djokovic lauded Murray's aggressive play.
"I made a lot of unforced errors when it was important," he said. "But, look, this is sport. It's normal that in some matches you can't pull out your best when you need to."
Djokovic denied that his four weeks off since the Australian Open — when he collected several awards and skied with friends — influenced the outcome of the match. Still, he appeared rusty early in the tournament, struggling to beat 72nd-ranked Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and 74th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky.
"I thought I've been doing well since Wimbledon last year," he said. "You know, I've been having a lot off-court activities since I became No. 1, but I have a team of people that controls it well.
"Obviously there is a lot of temptations and a lot of things that you can enjoy. But it's normal. You can't on one hand just be 100 percent of your life in the tennis. You are young. You have to enjoy life."
Federer, who came into the match with a 9-2 record against del Potro including win in this year's Rotterdam finals, struggled early on. Both players held serve in the first set and the third-ranked Swiss squandered three set points in the tiebreaker before converting the fourth with a forehand down the line.
The second set was just as tight, with del Potro winning points off his big serve and Federer dominating at the net. It went to a second tiebreaker, this time with del Potro going up 5-0 and 6-2. But Federer ran off four points to tie it and won when del Potro's backhand went long.
"It was a good comeback, especially on a quick court," Federer said. "I didn't believe I was going to come back, but at least sort of make him a bit nervous. Next thing I know, I had a great point at 6-all and I was able to come through. So it was a great match for me."
Federer enters the final with a 6-8 record against Murray. He hasn't played him since a victory at the ATP World finals in 2010.
"I just think Andy is an amazing player, and so far he's proved that this year. He's in the finals now with a great win against Novak," he said. "I expect a really difficult match in the finals."
In the doubles semifinals, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland beat Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel 6-4, 3-6, 1-0. Erlich-Ram were hoping to become the first Israelis to reach a Dubai Championships final.
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