Tomas Berdych may not quite be Winston Churchill’s proverbial “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” but, ever since he caused one of the biggest upsets of the 21stcentury by beating Roger Federer at the 2004 Olympics, tennis observers have puzzled about why he hasn’t emerged as a superstar.
To outhit Federer 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 on such a big occasion, at 18 years old, certainly seemed a positive omen.
But the Czech, 27, has never consistently shown the mental discipline and commitment in matches – trying drop shots at times instead of pounding his hammer groundstrokes, and fading in the late stages of matches when competitive grit and self-belief are of the essence.
His rivalry with Federer parallels his evolving maturity in recent years. After Athens ’04, he lost to the Swiss eight times in a row until 2010. Since, he has won four of seven, including at Wimbledon in 2010 and the US Open last year.
Off court, he broke up with his long-time girlfriend – fellow Czech player Lucie Safarova – and has been in a relationship with striking Czech model Ester Satarova for two years.
Something of an Adonis himself, Berdych won a thriller 15-13 third-set tiebreak on Sunday to wrap up a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(13) victory over an in-form Kevin Anderson.
In the post-match interview at Margaret Court Arena to the cheers of his fans, he said, “it’s my third year in a row in the quarters, so I don’t want to end up the same as the last two years.”
A year ago, he popped a backhand volley long that would have given him a two sets to love lead on Rafael Nadal. “I’ve seen it a couple of times on TV,” Berdych said about the fateful miss, “and maybe it looks easier than the volley was.”
In Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday night, he faces the Olympian task of beating Novak Djokovic who leads their head-to-head 11-1.
But Berdych’s only win came at a Grand Slam – Wimbledon 2010 – and Djokovic was on the brink of defeat against Stanislas Wawrinka – with a similar 2-11 record against him – in the wee hours Monday.
Djokovic has to be feeling it after those brutal five hours on court against Wawrinka. Berdych is the opposite. “Everything is fine,” the Czech said. “Last year I spend more time on court, this year I won every match in three sets.”
Not the fleetest afoot, Berdych is gifted with ‘easy power’ and must control the rallies against Djokovic, who admitted after overcoming Wawrinka, “he was the aggressive player on the court. I was just trying to hang in there, trying to fight.”
The other quarterfinal is an all-Spanish affair between David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro. The latter has the superior power but the former has the unyielding determination and is a perfect 12-0 in their head-to-head.
The marquee women’s quarterfinal is 4th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska against No. 6 Li Na. Li leads their rivalry 5-4 but lost two weeks ago in Sydney when she was vulnerable coming off a tournament title at home in Shenzhen, China. Though Li has several one-sided wins over Radwanska, it will be intriguing to see how the pressure of a Grand Slam affects their dynamic.
Finally, Maria Sharapova, hitting the ball as sweet as her Sugarpova candy, shouldn’t be troubled by fellow-Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS:
Berdych def. Djokovic in four: The Czech has been cruising and will never have a better chance against a battle-weary Djokovic after that marathon two days ago.
Ferrer def. Almagro in four: Almagro has the firepower, but not the head, to win three sets. But he only gets one.
Radwanska def Li in three: Li has hit Radwanska off the court in the past, but the Pole seems in slightly better form and should win.
Sharapova def. Makarova in two: Anyone who has watched Maria so far would not expect anything else.