ANDY Murray will face long-term rival Novak Djokovic in the final of the Qatar Open following a straight sets victory over Tomas Berdych.
The world number one had won his last six meetings with the Czech, including last year’s Wimbledon semi-final, and there seemed very little chance of that run ending in Doha.
He won with relative ease, outclassing his opponent to wrap up a 6-3, 6-4 success in an hour and 43 minutes.
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Murray went on court in the knowledge defending champion Djokovic was awaiting the winner and showed no signs of repeating the stuttering start he made to his quarter-final win over Nicolas Almagro the previous day.
After the first three games went with serve, the Scot broke to make it 3-1 and from there he never looked back as he produced one of 10 aces to clinch the opening set with just 48 minutes on the clock.
Berdych, coached by former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, showed some resistance early in the second set but could not capitalise on a couple of break points in the second game before immediately failing to hold his own service.
The pair then exchanged breaks before Murray saw the set out to set up a tantalising final with Serb Djokovic, who saved five match points on his way to defeating Fernando Verdasco earlier in the day.
Murray, who won the tournament in 2008 and 2009, has now recorded 28 consecutive victories.
“I want to try and keep it going, I feel a little bit like this year’s a fresh start,” he told Eurosport.
“The end to last year was a great way to finish the year but it’s great to be through to the final here and a great match against Novak tomorrow to look forward to.
“It’s been the perfect week to get ready for the Australian Open.”
On the performance of world number 10 Berdych, Murray added: “I played him at the end of last year and he was playing super aggressive there so I kind of expected that a little bit tonight.
“I saw his match yesterday and he was playing more aggressive maybe than in the past so I was maybe better prepared for it this time than at the end of last year.”
Djokovic looked like a beaten man when he trailed 6-2 during the second-set tie-break in Doha but somehow dug in to deny the 33-year-old Verdasco and secure a memorable 4-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-3 success.
“I can’t describe it with one word,” Djokovic told Eurosport. “I would like to say tough luck for Fernando, he was clearly a better player for a bigger part of the match and he should have won this match.
“I can’t say I did things the right way on those match points, he had some mid-court forehands, he should have finished it off, he didn’t and I just hung in there.
“It’s definitely one of the most exciting matches I’ve played. I don’t think I’ve saved five match points in my life.”
Meanwhile, top seed Milos Raonic recovered from a set down to defeat Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of the Brisbane International.
The Canadian world number three fired an impressive 23 aces to progress 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 against the Spaniard and set up a last-four meeting with Grigor Dimitrov after the Bulgarian beat Dominic Thiem 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka will play Kei Nishikori in Saturday’s other semi-final after the pair recorded contrasting victories.
World number four Wawrinka dropped the opening set in a hard-fought 6-7 (7/2), 6-4, 6-4 victory over Britain’s Kyle Edmund, while Japan’s Nishikori cruised through 6-1, 6-1 in just over an hour against home favourite Jordan Thompson.
At the the Aircel Chennai Open, third seed Albert Ramos Vinolas crashed out in the quarter-finals following a straight sets loss to Israeli Dudi Sela.