Highlights from the seventh day of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at London's O2 Arena...
There was a moment when it looked like it might all be too much for Novak Djokovic. Juan Martin Del Potro's infamous forehand was ripping him apart from the back of the court as the Serb surrendered the opening set of their semi-final 4-6. But not for nothing is Djokovic viewed by many to be the player of the year. The Serb appeared to be on the rack as Del Potro had break points early in the second set, but he dug deep and manufactured a break for 5-3 to take the second set. By the time the third set came around, the big Argentine's game had started to unravel. Breaking Del Potro to love in the third game of the set, Djokovic served out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win to reach the season finale's final for the second time in his career.
“I was aware that the key for me would be to try to get as many returns back in the court and get into the rally,” said Djokovic. “I wasn't managing to do so, especially [at] the end of the first set, beginning of the second. I dropped with my first serve percentage, made a lot of unforced errors. He used it. He was the better player at that time. I believed that I could come back. I believed that I could turn this match around in my favour, and I've done so. I've played from that moment on, when I got the break back, very flawless tennis.”
It was Djokovic's 74th win of the season, a personal best, and the Serb remains undefeated in this tournament. Del Potro meanwhile finishes 2012 with 65 wins and four titles, a career-best. His second most successful season came in 2009 when he won 54 matches, including the US Open title.
“He's definitely one of the players behind the big four that can challenge for winning a Grand Slam," Djokovic said of Del Potro. "Next to him, it's obviously Ferrer, who has had a fantastic year, the best year of his career.”
Standing in the way of Djokovic's maiden London title is world No.2 and Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, the twice defending champion in London. The Swiss produced a masterful 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Andy Murray in their semi-final, unravelling the Scot with his tactics and execution. Federer made 34 out of 34 returns on the Murray second serve, recovering from an early break in the opening set to take it on a tie-break.
Supported by a very partisan crowd, Federer found his full range in the second set, losing just two points on serve to achieve his ninth win over Murray in their 19th meeting.
“I think he played well,” Murray said. “I didn't think it was incredibly high standard in terms of length of points. There were a lot of quick points. I started the match well. He came back in [and] got the tie-break. Once he gets ahead, he's incredibly hard to stop. He tends to play better and better when he gets up. I feel like I gave him that advantage [at] the beginning of the second set.”
Should Federer triumph against Djokovic on Monday, he will be the first player since Ivan Lendl in 1987 to win three straight season finales, and it will bring him one title closer to John McEnroe's haul of 77 titles.
Murray meanwhile, who was disappointed but not downcast, bids farewell to the 2012 tennis season after an astonishing year - the US Open title, the Olympic gold medal, the Wimbledon final, to name but three of his achievements.
Speaking of fairytales, the run of Wimbledon champions Jonny Marray and Freddie Nielsen finally came to an end as the Anglo-Danish duo lost in straight sets 6-4, 6-3 to Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez. The Spanish debutantes, Spain's Davis Cup doubles combination, proved to be of a higher gear than Marray and Nielsen, who lost out on seven break point opportunities.
Lopez and Granollers, the first Spaniards to reach the doubles final since 1990, will play Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in the final, after the all-Indian combination saved a match point during their 4-6, 6-1, 12-10 win over Australian Open champions Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek.
Coming up on Monday
6pm - Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna v Marc Lopez and Marcel Granollers
The more experienced Indians will be favoured to lift their first season finale title, but don't underestimate the ebulliently enthusiastic Spaniards.
Not before 8pm - Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic
No.1 v No.2, defending champion v aspirant champion, this will be the 29th meeting between Federer and Djokovic, and, given the form of both players, is sure to make for an enthralling watch. Federer leads the head-to-head 16-12, and, given his record both indoors and more specifically in London, is expected to nick it. But Djokovic is Djokovic. You can never count him out.