DOHA, Qatar – Defending champion Novak Djokovic survived five match points to beat Fernando Verdasco and set up a final against top-ranked Andy Murray, who had far less trouble winning his semifinal as he recorded a seventh straight victory against Tomas Berdych.
On another day of chilly and windy weather Friday, Djokovic prevailed 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-3 after the 42nd-ranked Verdasco, a crafty left-hander and former top-10 player, controlled the first two sets until the latter stages of the tiebreaker.
Murray had no such trouble as he advanced 6-3, 6-4 against third-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. Murray's winning streak is now at 28 matches and the British player had 10 aces and 22 winners in a convincing performance.
"It's a great match against Novak to look forward to," Murray said on court. "This has been the perfect week to get ready for the Australian Open."
Murray has beaten Djokovic in two of their last three meetings — including in the final of last year's season-ending ATP Finals — but the Serb holds a dominant 24-11 career record against Murray.
"We have always very physical battles, long rallies, entertaining matches," said the second-ranked Djokovic, who beat Murray in last year's French Open final. "Between one and two in the world, it's a perfect matchup."
But Djokovic acknowledged that Verdasco could rightly have been the one facing Murray on Saturday. Of the five match points Verdasco held from 6-2 in the second-set tiebreaker, four evaporated on the Spaniard's own mistakes.
"I would like to say tough luck for Fernando, he was clearly the better player for the bigger part of the match and he should have won," Djokovic said on court. "I don't think I've saved five match points too many times."
The second-seeded Djokovic, who didn't lose a set en route to the semifinals, broke Verdasco's serve in the third game of the third set to finally take control. Djokovic, who only had one unforced error in the final set, sealed the match by breaking Verdasco's serve.
"It's tough to lose against someone so important like Novak having the match so close," Verdasco said. "It's hard to lose after how well I played and how close I was."
Verdasco initially trailed 4-2 in the first set, but then broke Djokovic at love in the seventh and ninth games to take the set.
Verdasco last played Djokovic in the second round of last year's Qatar Open, where his loss was his 11th consecutive against a world No. 1 player. Djokovic leads their head-to-head 9-4.
Murray, meanwhile, is the only player to reach four finals in the 25-year history of the Qatar Open — losing the 2007 final and winning the next two years.