Andy Murray set up a heavyweight clash with his main nemesis Novak Djokovic after reaching the final of the Qatar Open.
Murray, the world number one and top seed in Doha, beat giant Czech Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-4 in an hour and 41 minutes to record his 28th consecutive victory on tour.
Djokovic saves five match points to reach the final
In contrast Djokovic, the defending champion, was pushed to the brink of defeat by the heavy-hitting Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who let five match points slip through his grasp in the second set.
Eventually the tenacious Serb found a way to win as he closed out a 4-6 7-6(7) 6-3 victory to progress in two hours and 22 minutes.
Encouragingly for Murray, Djokovic appeared unsettled throughout the first two sets and looked helpless against Verdasco’s powerful groundstrokes.
Even so the Serb will be determined to record an early triumph over Murray in the pair’s first meeting of the year, especially with the Australian Open just over a week away.
Murray ready for Melbourne
Despite reaching the final five times, Murray is yet to win the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne but evidence suggests this will be his best chance yet.
The Scott was rarely troubled as he recorded his seventh straight victory over Berdych - the world number nine.
Murray has now won 16 consecutive sets against the 31-year-old Czech, who once again appeared powerless to combat Murray’s dexterity and resolve from the back of the court.
If Berdych was going to mount a substantial challenge to Murray’s supremacy, then his start was always going to be pivotal.
Berdych unable to trouble the world number one
Yet, the Czech’s serve breached in third game of the match as Murray raced into a 4-1 lead.
To his credit Berdych, who is now coached by the former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanišević, did try to unsettle Murray with a couple of early forays to the net.
However, the world number one was at his ruthless best as he wrapped up the first set without even facing a break point.
After breaking serve again at the start of the second set, Murray briefly let his guard down which allowed the Czech to draw level at 2-2.
The parity didn’t last long, though, as Murray quickly reapplied the pressure on the Berdych delivery, which is often one of the strongest areas of the Czech’s game.
Moments later Murray served out the match at the first time of asking.
Djokovic now awaits in Saturday’s final, when the battle for the world number one crown will recommence in the desert.