Movies and music are the most routinely reeled-off answers when a player is asked about their non-tennis hours. So it might be surprising to learn then when he’s not on court, Tomas Berdych loves to appreciate various forms of art.
More surprising still is the connection that the lanky Czech sees between the artistic world and his sporting one. “Whatever kind of art, if it’s building or if it’s a painting or something like that, what I see is a little bit unique,” Berdych said ahead of Australian Open 2014.
“I can see a little bit (of) something like that with the tennis. Because when you go on the court and you play, … that match is going to stay somewhere in the records … if it’s something very good, it can be like art.”
It’s an assessment that not only points to Berdych’s special talent for turning the average match into something special, but also his tendency to think deeply about it. Sometimes for long periods too.
It shouldn’t be unexpected, then, that when he’s asked to name his most memorable Australian Open, Berdych points not to his trio of quarterfinals in the past three years but to his first-ever Melbourne Park experience in 2004, when he qualified, won a round and then faced Andre Agassi.
“It was like, ‘wow’,” Berdych said, with a laugh about their second round meeting. “He really, like, let me down. Especially the first set, it was 6-0 and it was very fast. “
But even with a straight sets exit, there was a positive for the then 17-year-old. Years later, Berdych read Agassi’s assessment of the match in his autobiography. “I remember when I read his book that he mentioned this match so afterwards he said (to coach Darren Cahill) ‘look at this kid, he’s going to be good’. So it was a good moment.”
Agassi wasn’t the only one noting Berdych’s potential, which became even more obvious when he upset Roger Federer in the Athens Olympics later that year. Before his teenage years were over, Berdych also had a career win over Rafael Nadal and had claimed two of his 10 ATP titles.
In fact, the current world No.7 is one of the few active men on tour who can boast wins over every member of the game’s ‘Big Four’. He’s outclassed Nadal three times in 20 matches, Djokovic twice in 17 matches and Federer in six of their 17 meetings. Berdych even has an edge over Andy Murray, winning six of the 10 matches they’ve played.
The most memorable of those matches was at Wimbledon in 2010, when Berdych defeated Federer in the quarterfinals and went on to reach the final.
In any other era, most observers would agree, the talented Czech would have claimed a Grand Slam title by now – however Berdych himself believes that if it’s a frustration to compete in a period when Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Federer have dominated the majors for so long, it’s also a privilege.
“It’s an honour to play with all those guys and to be part of it.” Berdych pointed out. “The other side is yes, it’s extremely tough. They are taking all the Slams and all the big events just for themselves.
“On the other hand, if something big happens then I would say it’s going to be way more appreciated.”
Berdych appears to see the positives and negatives in most situations. Any disappointment in the lack of a singles title in 2013, for example, was quickly atoned for with being a member of the Czech Republic’s winning Davis Cup team for the second year running.
There was also a career-high world No.5 ranking – making Berdych’s own ‘Big Four’ breakthrough tantalisingly close. Berdych has worked with his coach, Tomas Krupa, since early 2009 but at age 28, you have to wonder whether he’s thought about joining the trend of enlisting a former Grand Slam champion to help.
“I’m happy with my team, the guys that I work with. But I’m definitely not saying that’s the only way that I will never ever try anything else,” said the Czech, who nevertheless admits that one former No.1 has a particular appeal. “If I could choose anybody it would be Ivan (Lendl).”
It’s a somewhat candid admission for a man who was once regarded as among the most reserved in the game’s upper echelons. But Berdych is a vastly more open individual these days, with a Twitter following that’s among the fastest growing in the tennis world.
That started when he suffered a rare first-round loss at the 2013 French Open, Berdych spotting the opportunity to fill some time and show another side to his personality. “(Fans) only see how you hit the ball,” he said. “I thought, all right, let’s bring some fun to the people around me.”
With his social media delivering everything from photos to jokes, occasional song lyrics and tales from the tour - and yes, even the aforementioned art - Berych has certainly managed that.
Many will be hoping to see more of his character unfold, both online and on the court, at this Australian Open.