Novak Djokovic said he felt “quite emotional” after reaching his fourth final of 2022 on Saturday with a straight-sets win over Roman Safiullin in the Tel Aviv semi-finals.
The 35-year-old Djokovic triumphed 6-1, 7-6 (7/3) and will look to win his third title of the season, and 89th of his career, when he tackles Croatia’s Marin Cilic in Sunday’s final.
Former US Open champion Cilic defeated 68th-ranked Constant Lestienne of France 7-5, 6-3 in his semi-final having trailed 2-5 in the first set.
“I think it was a very competitive match, especially in the second set,” said Djokovic after reaching his 127th final.
“I must say I was quite emotional on the court today in the second set, there was a lot of tension, and that was also due to his aggressive style of tennis. Big serves, and when he has time, he’s so solid from the forehand and backhand corner.”
Former world No 1 Djokovic raced to a 5-0 lead on his way to capturing the opening set in just 23 minutes without facing a break point.
However, Safiullin, the world No 104 bidding to make an ATP final for the first time, was far more competitive in the second set.
He had two break points which Djokovic saved in the sixth game. The 25-year-old Russian was made to pay when the 21-time Grand Slam winner broke for a 5-4 lead.
Safiullin battled back to 6-6 before Djokovic swept through the tiebreaker, securing victory after 94 minutes on court.
“I knew that I had to stay very strong, and that he was definitely going to raise his level in the second set, which happened,” added Djokovic.
“I was serving for the match and played a couple of loose points, but credit to him for fighting back. It was an enjoyable evening on the court for sure.”
Djokovic, who has titles in Rome and at Wimbledon this year, is currently seventh in the rankings and as a Grand Slam winner only needs to finish in the top 20 to guarantee a place in the ATP Finals.
He boasts an 18-2 winning record over Cilic, the world number 16 who wll be chasing a 21st career title on Sunday.
“It’s always a fantastic challenge to play Novak,” said 33-year-old Cilic.
“No matter the tournament, he is always an unbelievable competitor and always gives his incredible best. We first played in 2008 and we’ve known each other since we were 14 years old so it’s going to be another great match, and great for both of us to get in shape for the rest of the season.”