You would have thought he had seen it all before, but Roger Federer has had the unusual experience here this week of playing three opponents in a row whom he had never met before. The results, nevertheless, have been familiar. Sergiy Stakhovsky last night went the way of Somdev Devvarman and Marcel Granollers as Federer booked his place in today's semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Championships with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Stakhovsky, a 25-year-old Ukrainian ranked No 43 in the world, started well enough, going into a 40-0 lead in Federer's second service game, only for the world No 2 to respond by holding serve with four successive aces. Stakhovsky had three more break points in the second set but Federer always looked in control. He now plays Richard Gasquet, who beat Gilles Simon, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
Never one to take anything for granted, Federer has been discussing future opponents this week with Severin Luthi, his Davis Cup captain and regular touring partner, and Paul Annacone, who joined his entourage last summer. Luthi, who is here, watched Stakhovsky's previous match against Ernests Gulbis, while Annacone, the former coach of Pete Sampras and Tim Henman, has been in regular contact on the telephone.
Federer's professionalism is such that he has given up playing any other sports except table tennis. The last time he skied was three years ago, when a session on the slopes ended in a relapse into glandular fever, while he was put off football after playing for a whole week during a tournament in Switzerland 10 years ago. "I couldn't move at the end," he said. The 29-year-old Swiss has stopped playing squash, while even golf could be off the agenda after he felt a twinge in his back after playing a round recently.
Federer is aiming for his fifth title here, while Novak Djokovic is attempting to win the tournament for the third year in a row. The world No 3 dropped his opening service game against Florian Mayer but coasted to a 7-5, 6-1 victory. Djokovic now meets Tomas Berdych.