It was the battle of the high street fashion brands. Novak Djokovic in Uniqlo taking on Tomas Berdych in H&M.
But the shared ethos behind the top seed and fifth seed’s clothing was about all there was in common between Djokovic and Berdych on Tuesday night, with the defending champion progressing to his 11th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-1 4-6 6-1 6-4 victory.
Djokovic, who had less than 48 hours to recover from his five hour and two minute survival against Stanislas Wawrinka, practically sprinted through the early exchanges on Rod Laver Arena, breaking the big Berdych serve three times to win the first set in just 28 minutes.
“In the situations where you play a Grand Slam where you have to be ready for five-hour matches, and then of course if you go through those matches you have to be ready to recover in just a day and a half time,” Djokovic said.
“I have a great team of people around me that are doing the best they can in their expertise to make me feel ready physically, mentally, emotionally, every match, every challenge.”
With Berdych looking as blank as his new white shirt, there seemed to be no danger that Djokovic would be on the court for even a fraction as long as he was on Sunday night.
“I tried to get the work done as fast and efficient as possible,” Djokovic said.
“I was very happy with the way I started the match.”
But Berdych, a 2012 Davis Cup champion, did not upset Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2010 by fluke.
Taking advantage of a lull in Djokovic’s energy, the Czech fashioned a break of his own, and even had two points for a double break and a 4-1 lead in the second set. The Serb staved them off, and, as Berdych served for the set at 5-3, Djokovic threatened to do just what he had done against Wawrinka and snatch it from under the Czech’s white cap.
Turning defence into attack in the manner for which he has become so revered, Djokovic made life distinctly uncomfortable for the fifth seed, but Berdych clung on.
Losing the second set was like putting a booster in Djokovic’s engine. The No.1 seed, in no mood to hang about, roared into a 5-0 lead in the third set, and, despite one of the rallies of the match, served it out by the same scoreline as the first.
“One set was not enough,” said Berdych despondently. “I didn’t quite come up with my best game and that’s what was deciding today. I was not able to be aggressive enough.”
With his eye firmly on bedtime by midnight, Djokovic forced the Berdych errors on forehand and backhand to break in the third game of the fourth set, and didn’t let go.
The Czech saved three match points, Djokovic missing two backhands and Berdych finding a forehand winner, but it was immaterial in the end. Sending his 10th ace down the T, the three-time champion raised his arms to the Melbourne sky in a less emphatic display of celebration than his shirt-ripping on Sunday.
With the win, not only does Djokovic keep alive his dream of becoming the first man to win three successive titles at Melbourne Park, he also ensures that whether he wins or loses to David Ferrer in Thursday’s semifinal, he will remain as the world No.1 when this tournament concludes.
He certainly played like the top dog tonight.