Indian Wells, Calif. • Novak Djokovic beat John Isner 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-1 on Saturday to reach the final of the BNP Paribas Open, where he’ll resume his longtime rivalry with Roger Federer in a matchup of former top-ranked players.
Federer had a much easier time in the semifinals, beating Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-3, 6-1 and putting himself in position to win a fifth career title at Indian Wells. Djokovic is a two-time winner here.
Federer leads their rivalry 17-15, having beaten Djokovic two weeks ago in the semifinals at Dubai. Before that, Djokovic had won three straight times over the Swiss star.
"It’s always tense. It’s always emotional. It’s always close," Djokovic said. "I look forward to it."
No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska will play Flavia Pennetta in the women’s final Sunday before the men’s title is decided.
Playing for 2½ hours in near 90-degree heat, Djokovic struggled with the big-serving Isner, who beat the Serb in the semis two years ago before losing to Federer in the final.
"With that serve, obviously, he can win against anybody on a good day," Djokovic said. "I thought I returned really well today and allowed myself to have a bunch of opportunities on his service games."
Djokovic had a chance to win in two sets, breaking Isner to go up 5-4 and then again at 6-5.
But the American broke back at love for a 6-all tie, and then dominated in the tiebreaker. Isner won four straight points and served his sixth ace to win it 7-2 and force the decisive third set.
"When you get to the tiebreaker with John Isner, whoever you are, you’re not a favorite," Djokovic said. "I just tried to hang in there, stay mentally tough when I lost the second set, and played a great third."
With two-time Grand Slam winner Rod Laver watching from the shade, Djokovic broke Isner for a 3-1 lead in the third. Djokovic survived a break point in the next game and held for a 4-1 lead.
Isner called for the trainer a second time in the match to work on an area above his left knee before he got broken to trail 5-1, missing two straight forehands. Djokovic made his own big serve on match point that Isner couldn’t return.
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