Will Sunday be the crowning day for Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon, or will Rafael Nadal continue his march into tennis history? Unfortunately for Berdych fans I’ll come out right now and say it, Nadal is going to win this match and the title that goes with it.
And I think Nadal will win for the very simple reason that it’s a Grand Slam final. In his career only one player has ever beaten Nadal in a Slam final and that man – Roger Federer – isn’t playing on this Sunday. Instead it’s Berdych.
I do think we’ll have a good, tight, entertaining final. We know what we are going to get from Rafa, we’ve seen it before in these mega-matches in which Rafa almost always brings his “A” game.
Berdych, however, is an unknown quantity. He’s never been in a Slam final before and the nerves, the moment and his opponent could all get to him. If they do we could be left with a blow out title bout.
But I think those wins over Federer and then Novak Djokovic should keep Berdych’s mind sharp and focused for the Nadal challenge ahead.
But will it be enough or will it even matter?
Let’s go to the breakdown.
The Serve: Edge Berydch
Several players have remarked that Nadal has really improved his serve. He’s hitting it harder, with better location and added slice, and it’s coming in heavy. But Berdych’s serve is an absolute bomb and on grass his delivery gets the edge.
Berdych’s chances Sunday rest solely on his serve. A bad serving day for Berdych will lead to a straight set loss. However, a good serving day will allow Tomas to take more chances on Rafa’s serve, especially Nadal’s second. And that could be critical to his survival.
If he can keep Rafa from stockpiling break chances – remember how tough Rafa is on break points! – he could perhaps steal a tiebreak here or there and manage a break to turn things in his favor. But he’s need to serve well because we know Rafa will.
The Return: Edge Nadal
Even though Nadal has to face the tougher serve, he gets the edge. Rafa’s has proven many times over in big matches that his return is solid. He doesn’t often do much with them but he gets them back consistently and when needed he has the ability to crack winners.
Berdych is improving but he’ll have to take chances on Rafa’s second serve. I’m just not convinced his can consistently force the issue.
The Forehand: Edge Nadal
Rafa’s money shot continues to be his forehand. And thanks to the dry, clay-like conditions on Centre Court and heavier balls, Nadal can virtually play his clay game on the grass. And when he’s doing that it’s bad news for opponents who drop the ball short in the middle of the court.
Berdych, though, has a forehand that can sting Nadal. His flat blaster in either direction is hard, heavy and quickly gets through the court. But it’s just not as reliable and as vertsatile and Nadal’s.
The Backhand: Edge Nadal
Rafa’s most unappreciated shot continues to be his backhand. It may not have the power or flair of his forehand but it’s the Spaniard’s “rock”. He rarely errs with the shot and when asked he can produce some serious zingers off that wing – I seem to recall a couple “bomb-like” passing shots he hit against Andy Murray Friday.
Berdych’s backhand is also a weapon. It’s flat and heavy but not as consistent nor directional as Nadal’s. And I don’t think he has great drop shot or slice off that side either.
The Volleys: Edge Nadal
Volleying at Wimbledon and on grass seems to be going the way of the CD: extinction. But in this discipline I rate Nadal pretty high. He’s quick with his feet and has a great set of hands. And his overhead is exceptional. It probably won’t be the difference on Sunday but the edge goes to Nadal.
Movement: Edge Nadal
Nadal gets the clears edge here. Rafa ran like a gazelle against Murray. Berdych has improved his footwork but Nadal is simply the best in this category. No one on tour is better at footwork, speed and quickness than Rafa.
Intangibles: Edge Nadal
Nadal is so extremely tough in tournament finals, and even tougher in Grand Slam finals. To date, Rafa’s 40-12 career in ATP finals and of those he’s 7-2 in Grand Slam champion matches. And the two Slam losses both came at Wimbledon to Federer in four sets in 2006 and five sets in 2007.
Nadal also has the experience while Berdych is brand new at this Grand Slam final thing (Tomas has just 5 career titles to Nadal’s 40!). That said, Nadal will feel the pressure of being prohibitive favorite, but Berdych will feel the nerves of playing in the biggest match of his career.
The Pick: Nadal
Had this match been an en early rounder or even a final at Queen’s, I may have picked Berydch. But in a Slam final it’s tough to see Nadal losing now after having come this far. Nadal’s goal isn’t to reach finals, it’s to win majors and not finishing the task at this here would be a failure.
For Berdych, win or lose he’s going home a happier man and hopefully a more established threat at future Grand Slams. So he should be content with all he’s already achieved.
That said, Berdych still can win the match. Players who have a big game – big serve, big forehand, big backhand – can and have defeated Nadal. And Berdych already has a rare commodity that being three career wins over Nadal.
But I think in the end the stage will be too great for Berdych, the pick is Nadal in four.
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