Djokovic, Canas roll into Sony Ericsson final

3/30/2007 - Tennis

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Best known as Roger Federer's new nemesis, Guillermo Canas may soon have another honorific: Sony Ericsson Open champion.

The Argentine advanced to the final with another hustling, blue-collar performance Friday night, beating Ivan Ljubicic 7-5, 6-2.

The first qualifier ever to reach the men's final at Key Biscayne, Canas won the same way he did twice this month against Federer -- with dogged defense and steady shotmaking that repeatedly forced his opponent to hit another shot.

"I feel amazing," Canas said. "For me it was great to beat Roger twice in these two weeks, and now I'm in the final. This is a dream for me."

On Sunday, the 29-year-old Canas will play 19-year-old Novak Djokovic, who swept the final 11 games to beat Andy Murray 6-1, 6-0.

"I expected a difficult match, for sure," Djokovic said. "I'm very happy to win easy like this."

Once ranked eighth in the world, Canas began the year 143rd after returning in September from a 15-month doping suspension. He beat the top-ranked Federer in the fourth round, and he'll move back into the top 35 next week.

As a sequel to their semifinal, Canas and Ljubicic debated a push by the ATP players' council to withhold wild cards from players returning from suspensions.

"The guys were cheating on us, and I don't think we should help them to come back, simple as that," said Ljubicic, who is head of the players' council.

"I disagree with Ivan," Canas said. "If you're on suspension, you don't need to pay anymore. It's stupid."

Canas didn't receive a wild card at Key Biscayne and instead made the draw through qualifying. He and Ljubicic said their difference of opinion had no effect on the match.

The big difference was that Canas played the big points better. While Ljubicic went 0-for-7 on break-point chances, Canas converted 3-of-3.

That included the pivotal point of the match, when Canas came up with perhaps the shot of the tournament. He retreated for a lob, back to the net, spun as he hit a no-look forehand and pulled it down the line, past Ljubicic for a winner.

"I had a little luck with that shot," Canas said. "If I need to do it again, it's going to be tough."

The shot produced the first break of the match and put Canas ahead to stay, 6-5. He served out the set and then broke twice more in the second set.

The crowd, a reflection of South Florida's large Latin popular, was firmly in Canas' corner. Ljubicic acknowledged the atmosphere affected his concentration.

"It's not pleasant, playing in the United States, and you have like half of the crowd Argentinian cheering like in Davis Cup," the Croat said.

When Ljubicic sailed a forehand long on match point, fans roared once more. Canas celebrated with a hop, skip and grin.

"I'm very proud of the tennis I played tonight," he said. "My mentality is very strong. I have a lot of confidence to win a lot of matches this year."

Playing on a windy night, Canas committed only 12 unforced errors in 121 points, while Ljubicic had 27.

"He's just pushing the ball in the middle of the court, and you have to do everything," Ljubicic said. "When it's windy like this, it's not easy to go for the big shots. I think these conditions here suit his game perfectly."

Djokovic's game is thriving on the island, too. The 10th-seeded Serb wields a big serve and forehand but also has a deft touch, as Murray discovered.

Djokovic won at least 10 points with drop shots -- sliced floaters that landed softly just over the net. Murray frantically chased them, once nearly impaling himself on the net post.

"I can say I'm an all-around player," Djokovic said. "It's always good to have a game like mine, so I can change the pace and change the rhythm whenever I want."

The tactic repeatedly drew Murray out of position to scoop the ball back, and Djokovic would then hit into the open court for a winner.

"I've had guys that hit drop shots against me before," Murray said. "But normally when I get to them, I do something creative. Every time today, I hit the ball straight back to him. Every time I got there, he read where it was going, and he won the point."

That was far from Murray's only problem. He lost his final five service games, missing on 59 percent of his first serve, and hit only one winner in the first set.

There were whistles from the crowd when he double-faulted to fall behind 5-0 in the second set and jeers mixed with applause when he headed for the dressing room after barely an hour.

Was he embarrassed by the drubbing?

"It has happened to better players than me," Murray said. "I guess it's going to happen sometime in your career, and I'd rather it happened earlier, so that you can learn from it. You never want it to happen again. But it's a good humbling experience, and I'll just have to try to improve on my game and get better to make sure it never happens again."