The first leg of the hard court seasons comes to a smashing, super-powered end today in Miami. Andy Roddick and Tomas Berdych, two of the biggest bruisers in tennis will meet for the Miami Sony Ericsson Open title this afternoon, the last hardcourt match until July.
Both players enter into today’s final playing some their best tennis in a very long while.
Roddick has been on fire all week in South Florida. The former Miami champion is coming off a fantastic three-set win over Rafael Nadal Friday afternoon. In that match Roddick showed he still had the reckless power off the serve and the forehand that won him the US Open title in 2003. Six years later Roddick has transformed into a smarter, more defensive player who remains hungry for a return to the top of the ranking charts.
Berdych has long been labeled an underachiever, a stigma he’s trying to shed. The Czech big man is fearsome in just about every key department making him dangerous to any foe. But mentally he hasn’t exhibited the composure necessary to pull out though matches against the top guys, that is until this week.
Berdych perhaps “got over the hump” after his improbable and thrilling victory over Roger Federer Tuesday night. Credit to Tomas who could have easily celebrated in the Miami sun afterward, but instead the 24-year-old kept working hard earning a very tough three-set win over Fernando Verdasco on Thursday, then slaughtering Robin Soderling Friday night to reach what has to be the biggest final of his career.
Head-to-head Roddick leads 5-2 with three straight wins, two coming this year – a three-setter in Brisbane and two tiebreakers in San Jose. And I expect another tough, tight match today. But it’s an intriguing matchup.
On one hand you have Berdych who seems to be riding an Ivan Ljubicic-like path to destiny this week. He looked like he was going to lose again to Federer, but didn’t. Then Verdasco had him down but Berdcyh recovered. And then he blew right through Soderling.
Roddick’s rolled along early courtesy of a cupcake draw until Friday when Nadal had him against the ropes. But Roddick switched modes from defensive tennis to offensive tennis and it paid off wonderfully.
For me the key will be Roddick’s serve. If he serves like he did on Friday he’ll win. When Andy’s serving big it adds options to his ground attack. On his service games he can play more defensive knowing that he can escape a jam with a big delivery, and I really think that passive strategy has now become “Plan A”. On return games he can be that much more aggressive like we saw him do late Friday against Nadal.
For Berdych, he too will need serve well and have easy service games. The fewer pressure moments the better for Berdy and if he can dial-up love service games that should keep his nerves in check.
Neither player has won a title of this size – Roddick 2006 Cincinnati, Berdcyh 2005 Paris – so nerves will be a factor. The pressure will be on Roddick as he’s the American favorite and he’s playing where he’s won before and a place where he grew up. And after Indian Wells loss to Ljubicic, a missed chance here for Roddick would be devastating in my mind.
The pick? I think Roddick’s comes out and serves big, plays his defensive style tennis with the mindset that Berdych will eventually mentally breakdown and make some miscues if not in his own service games then in the tiebreaker. And I think the nerves and the moment will get to Tomas more than it will Andy. Roddick also gets the head-to-head edge. So advantage Roddick in three sets with a breaker involved. Regardless, it should be a fun, fascinating way to end this segment of the hardcourt season.
Happy Easter everyone.
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