Top-ranked Murray to face Verdasco in Dubai final

Fernando Verdasco of Spain returns the ball to Robin Haase of Netherlands during a semi final match of the Dubai Tennis Championships, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Friday, March 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Top-ranked Andy Murray reached his second final of the season with a dominant 7-5, 6-1 win over seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday.

Murray, who lost the Qatar Open final to Novak Djokovic in January, should feel confident of a 45th career title when he faces the unseeded Fernando Verdasco in Saturday’s final. He leads the left-handed Spaniard 12-1 in their career meetings.

Still, the three-time Grand Slam champion is wary of Verdasco’s ball-striking ability.

”He can generate a lot of power, he can control the ball,” Murray said. ”And when he’s dictating the points, he’s one of the best in the world at doing that.”

Verdasco reached the semifinals in Qatar and even had five match points against Djokovic. But he will need to be more clinical against Murray, who saved seven match points in his quarterfinal here against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Murray’s semifinal against Pouille saw both players below their best, which was understandable as they had lengthy and dramatic matches ending late on Thursday night.

”I don’t think it was the best match,” Murray said. ”Neither of us served well at the beginning.”

Pouille’s quarterfinal had ended after 2 am and the Frenchman said he didn’t go to sleep until three hours later.

This week marks Murray’s return to the court after his fourth round upset by Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open in January. Since leaving Melbourne, he’s also been ill with a case of shingles.

This match was Pouille’s first against a No. 1, and his lack of big-match experience showed in the second set.

The first set was competitive, with Murray breaking Pouille’s serve in the final game, clinching it on his second set point with a backhand crosscourt passing shot.

Murray raced into a 5-0 lead in the second set before Pouille held to love to claw back a game.

”I think I was a bit too frustrated at the beginning of the second set, and that cost me three or four games,” Pouille said. ”Then it was too late to come back.”

Earlier, Verdasco defeated unseeded Robin Haase 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-1, closing out the match by breaking Haase to love.

Verdasco upset sixth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round and No. 4 Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals.

”It’s an amazing week so far,” said Verdasco said, who is looking for his first title of the season and eighth of his career.