Australian Open: Czeching Out?
by Abe Kuijl | January 21st, 2008, 4:55 pm

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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17 Comments for Australian Open: Czeching Out?

JCF Says:

Berdych is overrated and overhyped. He has the potential to stage a few upsets here and there, but he’s not going to win any slams or get into the top 5. He and Murray are both the same.

Rafa will get a brief crack at #1 when Roger comes off the boil, and then Djokovic will take over, before Roger reclaims his throne.

SG Says:

Berdych. A giant guy with a 115-118 MPH serve and mobile as a pilon. Too much build up for guy that is too error prone and is mentally neither here nor there. You have to want to to be No.1 more than anything. It has to drive you. This guy will make a nice living winning a tournament here and there and occasionally making a run to the quarters of a major. That’s about it. It makes no sense to me that Federer hits bigger first serve than this 6′-5″ monster. Then again, when you watch these two play, it makes all the sense in the world.

Von Says:


I agree with you on Berdych. If I was a betting person, I would have won some money yesterday. He cannot handle the big ones, he falters and then bombs out. He is an underachiever. With his serve coupled with his ground strokes he should have done better in his career. Another one bites the bullet.

About Rafa and the Djoker, if Rafa wants the No.1 spot he is going to have to do it now. Djoker however, will have to wait for a little while longer, for the No. 1 spot. He has a lot of points to defend this year and there’s always the question about his fitness. He fell apart at the TMC in ’07 and at the Hopman cup this year.

I don’t Djoker achieving the No. 1 spot this year, e.g., if Rafa by some stroke of luck wins the AO then he’ll be No. 1, but then Federer will be No.2 and not too many points behind, for probably just a few months until the Masters Series begins, and depending on how well he does on those tournament he could reclaim the No. 1 spot; he does not have too many points to defend this year on those Tournaments because he lost in the early rounds. Both Rafa and Djok have points to defend at those tournaments.

That brings us to the Djoker. He won Miami and was in the finals at Indian Wells, so he has to defend those points and the other tournaments in between that he won. If he doesn’t defend those tournaments the No. 4 player (which I believe would be Ferrer after the AO) could easily take over the No. 3 spot and Djoker will be No. 4.

To riterate, it all depends on the fitness of Rafa and Djoker and how well they defend their points, and also how well Federer will play from the AO onwards.

jane Says:

Berdych’s main problem is brains, or lack thereof. He’s a bit of a dumb bell. As Abe says, this contrasts dramatically with Novak, who is “a fast learner, and has become one of the strongest players on tour mentally.”

For some reason, this tournament -more than most- has made me realize how essential it is to play smart on the court, to construct points, and to go out with a game plan, no matter how talented a player is. (We all know people who “had potential” but who now work at McDonalds, or wherever. “Potential” doesn’t mean much in the end.)

Look at Roddick: he doesn’t play smart a lot of the time and it hurts him. He has game plans, for sure, but when push-comes-to-shove, and the game plan doesn’t work, it seems to me he has a difficult time adjusting: *thinking* of something new. Or look at Baggy, who always says he’ll get onto the court and then figure things out. This is not smart; even though he is a great shot-maker, he shouldn’t rely on talent alone. If he was better prepared, who knows how high in the rankings Baggy might be? And I don’t mean physical preparedness.

I know I’ve been harping on this, so sorry, but Yanko Tipsarivec truly showed how very, very important smarts and focus are in his David vs. Goliath match against Federer.

To quote a thoughtful (if perverse) film-maker, who, btw, loves tennis (Woody Allen):

“Talent is luck; you’ve got to have courage”.

And a few brains won’t hurt either.

y0s3v Says:

Tipsy clearly took Fed to five sets because he wore glasses. Fed could not look directly at his eyes which made him difficult to read where the serve was going. That’s why now is the time for every tennis player to start wearing glasses, first it protects the eye when looking directly to the sun, second, you may be able to take Fed to five sets. :)

Von Says:


“And a few brains won’t hurt either.”

And, as the song goes, “You’ve got to have heart, lots and lots of heart…”

“Look at Roddick: he doesn’t play smart a lot of the time and it hurts him…”

Sorry, Andy, but you need to hit the ball, don’t hide from it. What can I say, my poor litte guy.
Breaks my heart.

“ player to start wearing glasses,..”
How about those glasses that reflect back to you what how they are holding the ball, those glasses that see through cards in the poker games. (joke)

Von Says:


“Berdych’s main problem is brains, or lack thereof. He’s a bit of a dumb bell..”

Probably too much “brains,” he had a lobotomy.

Tennis Pro Says:

Did you see what happened to Serena today in quarters? Troubles a brewing, hope this isn’t the end of her great history as a pro tennis player.

Von Says:

I think Serena has a couple of years left, not consistently though. One of the commentators said she had a quad/foot ptoblem. With this loss she’ll be out of the Top 10.

Mitch Says:

So when is Roger supposed to come off the boil? He’s been boiling for a while now and there’s still water in the pot. ok!

y0s3v Says:

Watch out! Muhammad Ali has come to the tennis world. I honestly think he has what it takes to beat Nadal. There is something special about this kid.

max619 Says:

It seems as if this AO draw was perfectly designed for Nadal…his way into the semis has been a joke in terms of the players he had to face. Tsonga at the semis will be Rafa’s only challenge so far. He did not have to play any of the guys he had problems with in the past like Blake, Berdych and Youzhny.
And because his body did not take a beating on his previous 5 matches I have the feeling Rafa is a strong contender to win this slam.
I predict a Rafa-Djoko final…I don’t think Fed is playing well enough to beat Djoko and Rafa in a row provided he gets past Blake.

rudi Says:

Berdych won everything easily as a junior. He didn’t know one had to be prepared to ‘die’ on court for bigger things to happen. When he was a kid he was bigger, stronger, taller, faster than his opponents so it just came. When armchair critics can’t figure someone out they come to the not thought-out knee-jerk conclusion players are ‘dumb, stupid etc.” It is burning hunger that he lacks, or has yet to find.
I find it funny that the ‘Harvard Student’ cannot muster enough brain cells to win a Slam yet at age 28. But clearly it is different rules for different folks.

jane Says:


“I find it funny that the ‘Harvard Student’ cannot muster enough brain cells to win a Slam yet at age 28. But clearly it is different rules for different folks.”

Smarts in school are a lot different than smarts on the court.

Nadal, for instance, probably hasn’t read the classics, but he’s clever on the court. He adjust when he needs to and thinks about his shots.

Blake isn’t – as you correctly point out. He usually just hammers away at the ball.

You also make a good point that Berdych seems to lack hunger, but surely you can’t argue against the fact that he often makes bad decisions on the court. Case in point; the drop shot on set point.

jane Says:


“Tsonga at the semis will be Rafa’s only challenge so far.”

This could backfire. Although he’s physically fresh, he may have a tough time with Tsonga precisely for the reasons you point out. Rafa got lucky that Murray, Gasquet and Youz were all eliminated by Tsonga – then again… maybe he didn’t.

jane Says:

Further to a player thinking about his/her opponent, adjusting on the court and having a game plan, these points are from Sharapova’s post match interview:

“MARIA SHARAPOVA: Well, I think the goal is not to try to get into those long rallies.[…]

But, yeah, when I did it I felt like I was able to execute those points and be smart about the shot selection I made and win them.”

“You’ve just got to be patient, but you can’t push the ball. So you’ve just got to be smart about what you do.”

On adjusting: “Yeah, before the match you might have some ideas on things you want to do in the match or what you want to accomplish and what you feel will help you win the match. But during the match, personally I’m all about instinct. I love playing by instinct.”

“MARIA SHARAPOVA: When I say I play by instinct, maybe three years ago, it would be stupid instinct because I’d want to finish the point so quickly I’d think I have to hit a winner on every ball, and that was completely out of line.”

Maybe she’s not always the smartest player, but she took out the number 1 seed last night in resounding (both the noisy & emphatic connotations of the word) form. It’s got to have something to do with her mindset – her hunger but also the pre-match tactics and smarter shot selection on court.

andrea Says:

i think nadal has had an easier draw at the AO – easy in terms of anyone offering any kind of real challenge. Andy Roddick would have likely made it at least a 4 set affair had me made the quarters, but we all know what happened to him.

Watching Nadal play Jarkko last night made me feel sorry for Jarkko – he was putting everything he had into every shot and they still didn’t have the fire power of nadal’s. it was pretty clear it would be over in 3 sets.

still hoping for a fed/nadal final. (their last meeting at the masters was a joke). unless fed gets in 83% of first serves again, should be a slug fest.

i hope that tsonga gives Nadal a good run for the money.

berdych – what can you say? he had set point against roddick at the US Open and had a meltdown and then retired a few games later. surprised he’s even #13.

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