Dubai: Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic had a brief scare and was forced to dig unexpectedly deep before reaching the quarter-finals in defence of his Dubai Open title.
The second-seeded champion was outplayed in the second set by Feliciano Lopez, a former runner-up here, and was within a point of going 3-4 down in the final set during a resourceful 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory.
It was the best match of the tournament, with both men willing to come forward and play rallies from the forecourt, which created a kind of the variety the modern game sometimes lacks.
The quality of Lopez`s play also inspired some fascinating exchanges from the back, forcing Djokovic to raise his level, and in particular increase the quality of his service returns, to avoid serious trouble.
"It was enjoyable, every minute we spent on the court was enjoyable," said Djokovic, whose most impressive qualities were how immediately he forgot about his mistakes and how promptly he responded to sudden challenges.
"It was a great match, and a great atmosphere, and a pleasure to be playing in it here. I was surprised at how well he returned serve and how he made life difficult."
Asked if he had been panicking a little in the final set - even though he looked quite cool - Djokovic said: "I wasn`t panicking because when I panic I break -- at least rackets, and I didn`t break any rackets which is a big improvement tonight."
Djokovic also reckoned that probably only a couple of points had decided the outcome of the match. One was an extraordinary was-it, wasn`t it affair when Lopez appeared to have reached game point for the second time at 3-3 in the final set.
The line judge called a Djokovic return of serve out on the baseline, the umpire over-ruled the decision and called it in, Lopez appealed to Hawkeye against the umpire`s decision, and the computer replay showed the ball catching the back of the line by about a millimetre.
This caused the point to be replayed and a couple of good blows later Djokovic had broken Lopez`s serve for 4-3 -- a break which he consolidated and which proved the crucial thrust.
He next plays Florian Mayer, the world number 38 who is one of ten Germans in the top 100. He could have a semi-final with Tomas Berdych, the Wimbledon finalist from the Czech Republic who overcame Nikolay Davydenko, the ATP Tour 2009 year-end champion from Russia, by 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
Djokovic is seeded for a final on Sunday with Roger Federer, the four times former champion whom he beat in the Australian Open semi-finals but who has been going well here so far.
Federer followed a straight sets win over Somdev Devvarman of India with another over Marcel Granollers, the world number 53 from Spain, by 6-3, 6-4.
It was most notable for an over-the-shoulder passing shot winner from Federer, struck at least a second earlier than expected whilst running back full tilt for a lob.
Federer next plays Sergiy Stakhovsky, the Ukrainean who is capable of high quality hot streaks and who upset the eighth-seeded Ernests Gulbis 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.