Djokovic thrills crowd to reach Tel Aviv Watergen Open semi-finals

Serbian ace overcomes friend and rival Vasek Pospisil of Canada and will face Roman Safiullin on Saturday; Marin Cilic will face Constant Lestienne in second semi-final.

 Novak Djokovic  (photo credit: ORI LEWIS)
Novak Djokovic
(photo credit: ORI LEWIS)

Serbian tennis ace Novak Djokovic gave a thrilled crowd full value for money on Friday evening by overcoming his close friend and rival Vasek Pospisil of Canada 7-6, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals of the Tel Aviv Watergen Open ATP event.

Djokovic, 35, and ranked at No. 7 in the world who has ambitions to regain his place at the top of the standings, did not have it all his own way in a hard-fought tussle against the tall Canadian player of Czech heritage.

Pospisil, whose promising career has been hampered by back injuries, is currently ranked 145, but his performance on the day was far, far better than that and he used his powerful serve and piercing volley to pressure his opponent into playing his very best tennis in order to stay in the running.

He was a "lucky loser" and fortunate to even be playing in the tournament after losing in the qualifying event, where he looked severely hampered by injury.

It was one of the best matches so far in the tournament and had the crowd on their feet several times cheering both men and hoping that the match would continue even longer.

 Novak Djokovic  (credit: ORI LEWIS) Novak Djokovic (credit: ORI LEWIS)

Both men held their serves throughout the first set and even though Djokovic opened up a clear lead in the tie break, Pospisil came back right at him and leveled the scores before the Serb held on to take it in just under an hour.

In the second set, both men trade breaks of serve in the early stages, but the enthralling tennis, as both men battled from all corners of the court with some scintillating rallies but Djokovic made the crucial breakthrough to seal the win in an hour and 53 minutes. Pospisil appeared to suffer some pain, but it didn't affect his passion and commitment to try to win.

There was little to separate the two players and they each served eight aces during the match and after it ended, the two men embraced at the net.

“It was a great, positive win,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “Vasek is one of my best friends on the Tour. We have known each other for many years. It is never easy playing someone you respect so much and like so much, but we are both professionals and wanted to win the match and you can see that.

“I think the level of tennis was really high. Especially towards the end of the first set and the second set. Credit to him for fighting. Great to see him back.”

What can we expect from the semi-finals?

The other semi-final will see Marin Cilic of Croatia meet Constant Lestienne of France who got past fourth-seeded American Maxime Cressy 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-6(3). Cressy, at 2.01 meters tall was undone by Lestienne's smarter and more diverse play and his big serve was just not enough to see him through.

Cilic advanced by way of a walkover after his British opponent, Liam Broady, pulled out of the first match that was due to be played on Friday.

The semi-finals start at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday and the final will be played on Sunday.

 Novak Djokovic  (credit: ORI LEWIS) Novak Djokovic (credit: ORI LEWIS)

Earlier, Safiullin from Russia, downed Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech 6-4, 6-1 in 69 minutes to set up a clash with Djokovic in the semis.