DOHA, Qatar (AFP) – World number one Novak Djokovic took a significant step towards winning an opening week tournament for the first time in eight years on Wednesday, simultaneously earning himself a meeting with the man with 9,000 aces.
The Serbian’s increasingly fluent performance during a 6-2, 6-1 win over the Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky avoided a potential banana skin against an opponent best known for upsetting Roger Federer at Wimbledon 18 months ago, and it carried him into the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open.
Djokovic was pleased that after saving three break back points in the seventh game, he acquired more rhythm and started dominating an opponent whose penchant for net attacks can be disruptive.
It earned him a meeting with another unusual opponent who can be dangerous in a very different way – the seventh seeded Ivo Karlovic, whose 17 aces during a straight sets win over Nikoloz Basilashvili, a qualifier from Georgia, increased his career total to 9,041.
This is the most aces of any active player and places Karlovic only 33 behind Andy Roddick, the former US Open champion, whose total is the second highest of all time.
Karlovic’s aim, he says, is to beat the all-time record of 10,183 held by his Croatian compatriot, Goran Ivanisevic. Surprisingly Djokovic also earned another high profile meeting with the man he was supposed to face in Saturday’s singles final, Rafael Nadal. That is because Nadal, who suffered an extraordinary first round defeat to qualifier Michael Berrer on Tuesday, responded by reaching the doubles semi-finals with Juan Monaco of Argentina.
Their 6-2, 3-6, 10-6 win over Benjamin Becker of Germany and Artem Sitak of New Zealand 6-2, 3-6, 10-6 brought a meeting with Djokovic and his compatriot Filip Krajinovic, who overcame the third-seeded Colombian pair, Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah by 6-3, 7-5. It also created one of those professionally rare occasions when Djokovic felt moved to express sympathy for an opponent before trying to beat him.
The man most likely to reach the final in the other half may be the winner of the meeting between Richard Gasquet, the sixth seeded Frenchman who won the title in Doha two years ago, and Tomas Berdych, the third-seeded former Wimbledon finalist from the Czech Republic.