Dubai, United Arab Emirates :Titleholder Novak Djokovic edged Marcos Baghdatis 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 to reach the Dubai Championships final against Mikhail Youzhny on Friday.
Youzhny beat Jurgen Melzer of Austria 7-5, 7-6 (4) to make the Dubai final again. He lost to Roger Federer in 2007.
Djokovic took the long road again, committing 10 double faults while having to come back from losing the first set for a third straight match.
"It was an incredible struggle again," he said. "Playing almost three hours against somebody who keeps the ball in the court in the rally for a long time. And, you know, it was very close. Every game was on the edge, I think.
"It's ups and downs, and it shouldn't be happening at this level. I'm just fortunate to go through. I was fighting, I was holding on as well as I did in the last two matches. But, you know, I don't want to look on the negative side. I'm in the finals. I have a chance to defend my title."
After losing the first set in a tiebreaker, Djokovic had to save break points in his first three service games of the second set.
He saved 13 out of 16 break points in all, and conceded no chances in the third set.
"My serve wasn't on the level that I wanted it to be. A lot of double faults, a lot of breakpoints. That is something that I really don't want to have anymore," Djokovic said.
"When you have a good serve, it gives you a little more advantage _ free points, and mental confidence. I didn't have that today. So I had to work it out with my legs and fighting spirit, I guess."
At least he didn't finish as exasperated as Baghdatis.
"What can I say? I lost the match that I had in my hands," Baghdatis said. "I'm really frustrated now. But it's not easy. I didn't take any of the opportunities I had. I was feeling good on court, moving well."
Baghdatis won his fourth career title in Sydney last month but it's been two years since the Cypriot beat a top-10 opponent. It was his fourth straight defeat to Djokovic.
"Of course, I believe I can beat the top players," he said. "I'm not very far from the top level. It's just the important points that make a difference. I have lost a lot of them in my career, and I have to find a solution."
Seventh-seeded Youzhny achieved the only break in his semifinal with unseeded Melzer in the 11th game.
"It was a tough match. It was really close," Youzhny said. "I think Jurgen played really well today. He was aggressive"
Youzhny added that it was his ability to raise the quality of his serving in the tiebreaker that proved the difference.
"During the match it was so-so, but in the tiebreak, I served really good," he said.
Youzhny won his last encounter with Djokovic, in the Rotterdam semifinals two weeks ago, to even their head-to-head at 3-3.
"I should have won that match," Djokovic said. "In my opinion, I felt the ball well but just didn't play the right shots at the right time and he won in the end.
"So, I am motivated to win another title and get my revenge back. Hes a very talented player, even though he looks strange the wayhis technique is on the court."