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DOHA (AFP) – Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic on Friday won through to the Qatar Open final, setting up a hugely-anticipated early season clash between the two best players in the world.
Djokovic only got through after saving five match points against world number 42 Fernando Verdasco, to win a thrilling match 4-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-3.
Murray swept aside Tomas Berdych in far more straightforward fashion 6-3, 6-4 to secure a 28th consecutive victory, a record which stretches back to September last year.
The mouthwatering final between the world number one, Murray, and his nearest rival takes place on Saturday and will be a key litmus test ahead of the season’s first Grand Slam in Australia which starts on January 16.
Djokovic said he was lucky to be in his second successive Doha final after being on the brink of a straight sets defeat as he trailed in the second set tie-break.
But through a combination of typical Djokovic grit and Verdasco errors he saved four match points at 6-2 down in the tiebreak and another when 7-6 behind.
It is the third time in his career he has saved five match points.
‘‘It’s definitely one of the most exciting matches I have played,’’ Djokovic said after coming back from five match points down for just the third time in his career.
‘‘I haven’t saved five match points many times. He (Verdasco) should have finished it off.’’
He added: ‘‘I’m obviously very pleased, because you need these kind of matches, these kind of confidence boosters, for whatever is coming up after that.’’
He said a final with Murray would be a ‘‘perfect match-up.’’
Djokovic’s progress prior to the semi-finals had been serene and Friday’s match was the first time the Serb had even dropped a set in Doha in almost two years.
Despite losing his opening service game, the world number two broke back in the eighth game.
But he was then immediately broken back by Verdasco, who not only served out for the set but then broke Djokovic’s opening service game in the second.
Only after closing the tense second set tie-breaker, did Djokovic’s victory seem likely.
Murray, who had struggled with the windy conditions and opponents in previous rounds, won far more easily.
He broke Berdych early in each set and won in almost an hour’s less playing time than the Serb.
He said the final would be ‘‘a great match to look forward to.’’
‘‘It’s a great test tomorrow. To start the year it’s great to play against one of the best in the world.’’
It will be the 36th match between the pair.
Djokovic has historically had the upper hand, winning 24, but Murray won the last time they played at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
Among those watching the two semi-finals in Doha were Bayern Munich players Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski.
The German champions are in Doha where they are holding a winter training camp.