Watching the Roger Federer-Tomas Berdych match tonight in the fourth round at the Sony Ericsson Open Miami, you almost got the feeling that Federer was following the Master Plan to a T. That is the “Berdych Choke Plan”:
Let Tomas win the first set and make it look real bad by double faulting on set point. Check.
Recover and win a closely contested second set, preferably in a tiebreak. Check.
Play like crap to open the third set. Check.
Give Tomas a break, the lead, adding to his false hope. Check.
Get break back and make Tomas doubt his ability to close out the match. Check.
Push it to a breaker. Check.
Let Tomas go up a mini-break giving him the false hope chance to serve it out at 5-4. Check.
Finish Tomas off at 6-5 after he chokes both points on his serve. Che…Uh oh… And the plan went pear shape.
Full credit to Berdych who choked but then in the end didn’t choke. In fact it was Federer who couldn’t capitalize/finalize on a 6-5 third set breaker lead. And after eight tries Berdych finally got another well-deserved win over Federer following a hair-raising 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-6(6) effort over the World No. 1.
As I wrote, Berdych was up a break in the third and cruising. Federer was spraying more balls than a can of tinactin in a rugby locker room. He was missing forehands, backhands, slices and he was struggling with his footwork. He looked so bad he almost seemed to do it with purpose, with a plan. The plan to make this loss as painful and as heart-wrenching as ever for the Bird Man.
At 4-3 Berdych serving, as if on cue Federer broke back and then had 0-30 on Berdych’s ensuing service game. Two points from losing the match at 4-5 Berdych somehow held it together, played a couple decent games and into a final set breaker we went.
If my memory’s correct they traded mini-breaks early before Berdych finally went up 5-4 with two big deliveries to come. Berdych dropped the first for 5-5. Then he completely shortarmed (ie, gagged) a forehand up-the-line. His subsequent challenge prove incorrect, match point Federer. Berdych, though, remained hunched over at the net almost as if he was rehearsing for yet another excruciating defeat and handshake.
But then he smiled, let the air out, made some funny faces and suddenly the pressure seemed off. Berdych was going to lose. He knew it. I knew it. I think everyone knew it. Except he didn’t lose. The Big Man went on the attack crushing a couple forehands and when Federer ‘s own forehand sailed long the match was over. Berdych had done it.
“The last match before this one we played in Australia I was two sets up… he came strongly back and won that match, and he deserved it and played well,” said Berdych after the 2-hour, 51-minute thrill ride. “This one was another chance. I was trying to just go for it same as the match in Melbourne, and finally it happened. I think it was the our 10th match against each other; second victory for me.
“It’s a great feeling to beat the No. 1 player in the world, the best player so far. But still, it was not a final. There is another match waiting next day, another really tough opponent. I need to take all the positive things, all the confidence from this match take it into the next match. “
Incredible finish. Incredible drama. Unlike any non-Slam match we’ve seen in a long time here in the U.S. That’s some top quality March Madness. The two ended with the identical number of points: 119. And the right man was the winner on the night. Great effort from Tomas to hang in there and finish the job.
“Look, it’s no secret I’ve struggled the last, what is it, five matches I’ve played here in the States,” said Federer who hit 61 errors and was just 2-for-10 on break chances. “It’s disappointing, I think, my performance overall, if I’ve got to analyze right now after the match.
“But I fought as much as I could under the circumstances with my game having issues at the moment. Definitely lack timing. I don’t know where that comes from because I played so nicely in Australia. So it’s disappointing to not be able to back it up.”
Added a perturbed-sounding Federer, “[This loss] only fuels my desire to go back to the practice courts and come back even stronger. I don’t like to lose these type of the matches. I’m looking forward to the clay court season now. It helps to kind of move on to a different surface. Definitely need to practice harder, and that’s what I’ll do.”
There were other matches on a busy second week Tuesday in Miami. Next for Berdych on Thursday is Fernando Verdasco who saw off the Goran Ivanisevic-led Marin Cilic 6-4, 7-6(3).
Andy Roddick overcame a shaky start to beat Ben Becker 7-6, 6-3 and tomorrow he gets Nicolas Almagro, a winner in a third set breaker over Tomasz Bellucci.
It was anything but easy for Rafael Nadal in his tough win over David Ferrer 7-6, 6-4. Tomorrow he’ll take on the streaky Frenchman JW Tsonga. Tsonga dispatched another former Spanish No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero in routine fashion.
And in the other Thursday quarter it will be Robin Soderling v. Mikhail Youzhny. Soderling needed three sets to turn away Fernando Gonzalez while Youzhny was the beneficiary of a Mardy Fish retirement (back).
In women’s quarterfinal play tomorrow, Justine Henin meets Caroline Wozniacki and in the evening its Kim Clijsters and Sam Stosur. Already in one semifinal are Venus Williams and Marion Bartoli.
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