Youzhny into Dubai tennis final
DUBAI: Mikhail Youzhny, who had to come back from the dead to survive his opening match, made his second final in succession Friday when he reached the showdown of the Dubai Open.
The world number 17 from Russia did that with a 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) win over a surprise semi-finalist, Jurgen Melzer, producing an economical performance in difficult conditions and serving consistently well, especially when it mattered.
It was an unusually tough contest, because shade temperatures reached 37 centigrade, there was a treacherous breeze, and small sand clouds invaded the court. Spectators nestled on one side of the arena, backs to the sun, sheltering under the giant score-board.
"It was difficult, and I just played a little bit slower," said Youzhny, who squeezed through by small margins: just one break of serve in the penultimate game of the first set, and one mini-break only in the second set tie-break.
Youzhny also remembered how close he had come to the exit on Tuesday, when he had been a set and 3-5 down against Lukas Lacko, a Slovakian qualifier.
"The first round was my toughest match so far because it was my first match after the injury," said Youzhny, referring to his retirement with a pulled thigh muscle against Robin Soderling in the Rotterdam final a fortnight ago.
"I'm still thinking about how the leg will be," he added, and when asked if it was now 100 percent, Youzhny declined to confirm that it was.
Although it may have reduced his mobility slightly, it was nevertheless good enough to get him through two hours and eight minutes in debilitating heat against an in-form opponent who had impressively dismissed Marin Cilic, the Australian Open semi-finalist.
Melzer again looked dangerous, proving himself the harder hitter of the two as well as the livelier mover -- qualities which helped him to earn the first break point of the contest, at 5-4, which was also a set point.
The pressure on Youzhny at that pivotal point mounted further when he was foot-faulted. But his second serve was solid enough, and he patiently played out a long rally which ended with Melzer smacking a forehand drive into the net.
This failure to convert brought a reaction from the aggression Austrian, who made two more very important driving errors in the next game, costing him the only break of serve of the match.
Something similar happened in the second set. Youzhny was 30-40 on his serve at 2-3 but Melzer made an important error with a flat attacking backhand drive and was again unable to convert. This time though he narrowly avoided dropping serve immediately afterwards.
The match-deciding rally came in the fifth game of the tie-break, when Melzer, still the more positive but by now suffering from an increasing error ratio, pulled a forcing backhand cross court drive into the tram-lines.
Youzhny then held both his two pairs of serves to consolidate the slight but crucial advantage, closing out the match before celebrating modestly.
"I lost a lot of finals previously, and I want to win this one," he explained, indicating that his mind was already on preparing for the next task -- against either Novak Djokovic, the defending champion from Serbia, or Marcos Baghdatis, the former Australian Open finalist from Cyprus.
In fact Youzhny has only lost five finals, and has won five too. His optimism may have been further bolstered by having got the better of Djokovic in Rotterdam.