ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Novak Djokovic retained his title at the World Tennis Championship exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi on Saturday by rallying past Nicolas Almagro of Spain 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4.
The top-ranked Serb swept past David Ferrer in straight sets to reach the final, but he got a tough test from the 11th-ranked Almagro.
Almagro, a late replacement at the tournament for Rafael Nadal, rallied from 3-1 down in the tiebreaker to take the first set.
“It is amazing, him coming here only a few days ago and having a late entrance to the tournament and performing this well yesterday and today,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic broke to lead 3-1 in the second set on his way to evening the match.
The third set was much tighter, with both players holding serve after eight games until Djokovic went up 5-4 and then broke Almagro to clinch the victory.
Both players had 12 aces, but Almagro was able to convert only one of six break points. He won just 34 percent of points on returns.
AUSTRALIA, SPAIN OPEN WITH WINS: In Perth, Australia, Australia beat Germany 3-0 in the Hopman Cup mixed team competition Saturday after Andrea Petkovic had to retire from her singles match with a right knee injury.
Bernard Tomic had given Australia a 1-0 lead with by beating Tommy Haas 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-5, but Petkovic looked likely to force the series into a decisive mixed doubles when she won the first set 6-4 against 16-year old Ashleigh Barty.
However, she called for treatment and was in tears as her right knee was bandaged.
Spain clinched a 2-1 victory over South Africa after winning the mixed doubles 6-4, 6-7 (3), 10-8.
Kevin Anderson had given South Africa the lead by beating Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (5), 6-4, before Annabel Medina Garrigues evened the contest with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Chanelle Scheepers. The Spanish duo then outlasted the South Africans in the Champions tiebreaker of the doubles match.
Earlier, Tomic hit 14 aces to overcome his more experienced opponent. Haas led the first set tiebreaker 6-1 before Tomic swept the next seven points. A forehand error at 4-3 gave Haas the only break of the second set, and the German broke again early in the third. But Tomic leveled at 5-5 and broke again before clinching the win on his third match point.
“It was a very tough first set and my first to play for a few months,” Tomic said after claiming his first victory since September. “It was difficult to play Tommy. He played really well at the beginning of the tiebreak and I don’t know how I got out of that.”
South Africa’s Anderson held two set points at 5-4 in his the first set of his singles match but made errors on both before winning the tiebreaker. The South African then broke at 4-4 in the second before serving out the match.
Scheepers maintained the pressure in the second set as Medina Garrigues faced eight break points.
However, the Spaniard broke for 3-1, fought off five break points to hold for 5-2 and broke serve again when she converted her second match point.
“I was a little bit lucky,” Medina Garrigues said. “The doubles was also tough, one and a half hours, but Fernando was playing good and now we have to recover (to face France) tomorrow.”
LI BEATS AZARENKA IN EXHIBITION MATCH: In Hua Hin, Thailand, Li Na of China won the annual Hua Hin exhibition event on Saturday by beating top-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 2-6, 10-7 after a Champions tiebreaker.
The seventh-ranked Li benefited from a slew of unforced errors by Azarenka in the first set and then broke to lead 2-1 in the second.
But the defending champion from Belarus won five straight games to level the match before coming up just short in the decider.
Azarenka was accompanied to Thailand by American rapper Redfoo of LMFAO. She will start her WTA season by playing in the Brisbane International next week. She said “I was surprised by the court. It was my first match, I should have practiced a bit more. But Li Na played so well.”
Li will next play in the Shenzhen Open in China.
BERDYCH AMONG 4 TOP-20 PLAYERS IN FIELD: In Chennai, India, sixth-ranked Tomas Berdych heads a strong field that includes four top-20 players in the Chennai Open that starts on Monday.
World No.9 Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia and former champions Marin Cilic of Croatia (15) and Stanislas Wawrinka (17) of Switzerland are the other big names in the field.
Also in the field are Frenchman Benoit Paire, who showed good form in 2012 and has risen to 47 in the ATP rankings, Dutchman Robin Haase, Taiwan’s Yen-Hsun Lu, and Japan’s Go Soeda.
Berdych defeated Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of this year’s US Open. He is returning to Chennai after missing the previous year.
Berdych lost to Wawrinka in the semifinals of the 2011 tournament, but is among the favorites because of his liking for hard courts.
Among his biggest threats would be Tipsarevic, who lost a marathon final to Milos Raonic last year.
“It’s a great event,” Tipsarevic said. “You’ve been seeing a lot of me in the last few years, and every year I am playing better and better as you can see and I really want to win the whole thing this year.”
Two-time champion Cilic said the tournament was good preparation for the Australian Open starting Jan. 14.
“I’m delighted to be back in Chennai, especially since I could not participate in last year’s event due to an injury. I have chosen to start my five previous seasons here and have had great success as a lead up to the Australian Open,” Cilic said.
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