No. 8 Roger Federer and No. 2 Novak Djokovic will renew their rivalry in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships on Friday.
Federer booked his spot with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Lukas Rosol on Thursday, one day after the 32-year-old Swiss needed three sets to beat Radek Stepanek. Djokovic advanced when Mikhail Youzhny withdrew because of illness. The 26-year-old Serb dropped only 10 games in his first two matches.
Federer leads the head-to-head 16-15, but Djokovic has won three consecutive meetings, including both clashes last year, and nine of the last 12. The record on hard courts is 12-12. The players have split two matches in Dubai, where Djokovic is the defending champion and four-time winner and Federer is a five-time champion. The two have combined to win nine of the last 11 Dubai titles.
The rivalry, which dates to 2006, has included some testiness. Federer has questioned Djokovic’s retirement history and use of a trainer during matches and told the Serb’s camp to pipe down. Djokovic’s parents have criticized Federer and savored their son’s victories over him. Federer, however, has downplayed any friction.
“I’ve always respected him,” Federer said of Djokovic in 2012. “Have I gone out for dinner with him? No. But I had many meetings with him at the [ATP Players] Council, and then now with the Grand Slams. He’s been nice to work with. We’ve met on several occasions because of other things together. I have no issues with him, and I hope you believe me.”
Here’s a look back at some memorable on-court moments from their rivalry:
2006 Monte Carlo Masters
In their first meeting, the top-ranked Federer defeated No. 67 Djokovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 in the first round. “I definitely think he’s a good player,” Federer said afterward. “He was all right from the baseline and everything. He’s still got many areas where he can improve, so there is some potential, absolutely.”
Djokovic, an 18-year-old qualifier, was disappointed that he couldn’t pull off the upset but took positives from the match. “This will be a big experience for me and my confidence will grow up for sure after this match because I know that I played well,” he said. “I’m still young, so I just need to have more and more matches like this so I can learn how to play against these kind of players.”
2007 Rogers Cup
Djokovic entered with an 0-4 record against Federer, including a straight-set loss in the fourth round of the 2007 Australian Open. But in Montreal, the fourth-ranked Djokovic defeated Federer 7-6 (2), 2-6, 7-6 to complete a run in which the Serb knocked off No. 3 Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and No. 1 Federer in the final. One month later, Federer dispatched Djokovic in straight sets in the U.S. Open final.
Here are highlights from their match in Montreal:
2008 Australian Open
Djokovic’s first victory over Federer in a major came in the semifinals in Melbourne. Djokovic went on to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for his first Slam title.
2009 Sony Open
Who could forget Federer’s stunning racket smash in the midst of a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss in the Miami semifinals?
2009 U.S. Open
Their semifinal will be remembered for what Federer called the shot of his life. With his back to the net, Federer hit a between-the-legs cross-court winner to set up match point, which he converted to win in straight sets. “I mean, that shot that he hit, you saw the reaction of the crowd,” Djokovic said. “I mean, what can I explain?”
2010 and 2011 U.S. Opens
The two met in the semifinals in back-to-back years and both times Djokovic saved two match points en route to five-set victories. The most famous save, of course, was the first match point in 2011, when Djokovic rifled a forehand winner off a Federer first serve. Asked whether Djokovic’s audacious forehand was a result of confidence, Federer said:
“Confidence? Are you kidding me? I mean, please. Look, some players grow up and play like that. I remember losing junior matches. Just being down 5-2 in the third, and they all just start slapping shots. It all goes in for some reason, because that’s the kind of way they grew up playing when they were down. I never played that way. I believe in hard-work’s-gonna-pay-off kinda thing, because early on maybe I didn’t always work my hardest. So for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point. But, look, maybe he’s been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You’ve got to ask him.”
Here are the four match-point saves:
2011 French Open
Federer memorably wagged his finger after stopping Djokovic’s 41-0 start to the season with a 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) victory in the semifinals at Roland Garros.
In the most recent of their 11 Grand Slam meetings, Federer beat the defending champion 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals en route to his 17th major title.