Australian Open: Czeching Out?
Has the whole world forgotten about Tomas Berdych? The hard-hitting 22-year-old, once considered a sure-shot elite player for years to come, is now on the highway to underachievementville. I can’t believe the Birdman achieved his highest ranking such a short time ago, in august of last year to be exact. In my head it feels like he peaked back in ’06, but that could be because of the beatdowns he put on Nadal in those days.
Berdych won in Halle last year, beating Marcos Baghdatis in the final and not dropping a set in the entire event, before reaching the last eight at Wimbledon. On this big occasion, he flamed against Nadal and couldn’t win a set. At the US Open, there was his awkward retirement against Andy Roddick in the fourth round because he wasn’t feeling well. If I recall correctly, he had breathing problems. Roddick was already up a set and a break at that point.
I didn’t expect much from his match against Federer today, because for one Berdych has been underachieving ever since the grass court season, and also because Roger had been hitting the ball pretty well so far in the event. I didn’t think Federer’s five set struggle against Tipsarevic would play much of a role on this day. As it turned out, I’m not sure if it did, but Federer was clearly not as sharp as in his first two rounds. Despite that, it was obvious that no matter how many chances Federer would offer to his opponent, he wasn’t going to lose this match. Berdych was playing a pretty solid game, serving well, putting Federer under pressure and benefiting from the fact that the Swiss was a little slow reacting to whatever came his way, but he failed to do any of it when it mattered most.
Federer was a bit vulnerable on his serve today, missing a lot of first serves on important points, but more often than not, he just needed to put his second serve in play and watch Berdych flunk one return after another. When Berdych was serving, Federer only had to keep the ball in play and see how his opponent would self-destruct. In the second set, the Czech absolutely handed Federer the re-break after taking an early 3-0 lead, and the way he blew that tiebreaker was nothing short of ridiculous.
Berdych was up 5-2 and serving with a double minibreak. First, he tried to hit a cheeky drop shot after Federer blocked a bullet serve out wide. It missed horribly. At 5-3, another weak play meant Federer was back in the breaker. But Berdych still managed to get a set point on his own serve, because Federer wasn’t exactly on top of his game either. What did Tomas do? Blow another half court sitter by going for the drop shot again, which of course he missed. It reminded me a bit of Novak Djokovic pre-Indian Wells ’07. In tight spots, he didn’t know what to do, and thus went for the drop shot time after time. Luckily for the Serb, he’s a fast learner, and has become one of the strongest players on tour mentally. I can’t say I see the same thing happening to our Czech friend.
There’s no doubt Berdych still has a lot of potential and he really should have at least a few years ahead of him as a Top 10 player. But it’s become very doubtful that the man will ever win a Grand Slam title. Federer and Nadal will remain to be a force throughout most of his career, while Djokovic and also Andy Murray are looking as much likelier candidates to win some silverware in the near future. Berdych has the game to play with these guys, but a great repertoire doesn’t make a great champion. It’s the mentality.
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