Friday, July 2, 2010

Power and Poise

Berdych: Strong, smooth, and in the groove. It's been a long wait, but the young Czech is finally fulfilling his promise.

It took Tomas Berdych twenty-seven Grand Slams to make his first semifinal appearance. During that seven year span the 6'5" Czech was eliminated from Slam contention sixteen times (wow, really?) in straight sets. His fortitude was brought into question, time and time again.

For twenty-six consecutive Grand Slam appearances, we had our answer. Berdych was blessed with the rarest combination of physical size and athletic prowess. He ranks right up there with Juan Martin del Potro in terms of big man quickness and fluidity, but unlike the Argentine he's always seemed to be missing that hard-to-describe sixth sense that lives between the ears of every Grand Slam champion.

Berdych was missing something, that we could all see. Was it desire? Was it intelligence? Was it confidence? We've all wondered, and we've all thrown up our hands in disbelief at Berdych's surprising inability to climb higher in the rankings and to go deeper in the slams.

How could a force of nature like the chiseled Czech not wiggle his way into the ATP's top ten when other similarly sculpted players were moving full speed ahead into the upper echelons of the sport? Had Berdych not gotten the memo that he was the archetypal modern tennis player - a daunting specimen and the perfect quick-strike artist who possessed the ability to dominate with his serve and his forehand, along with the ability to outrun and outdefend his opponents from the baseline if the need arose?

Evidently, he gets it now. After a surprise trip to the French Open semifinals, where he was beaten in five sets by Robin Soderling, Berdych has finally started to show an affinity for the business end of Slams - evidently he likes it. After meticulously defeating Serbian Novak Djokovic in straight sets today, the Berdman is getting ready to take a shot at Rafael Nadal in his first-ever Grand Slam final.

"He's found another gear, he's competing harder, and he wants it more," said John McEnroe, who knows a thing or two about the heart of a champion as a seven-time Grand Slam champion. "Ever since he beat Federer in the Olympics we said, 'okay, this guy's gonna win slams,' and now, here we are...better late than never."

Now, maybe the same trait that we tended to see as indifference or a lack of desire in Berdych in the past is actually helping him navigate these tense matches: His evenness. Berdych calmly rallied when facing set points against Djokovic in the second set today, holding the fort with big serving and his stunning forehand, until the Serb finally melted down, double faulting to hand Berdych the set.

The more we see of Berdych in these big matches, the easier it is to understand his success. He's incredibly strong, yes, but he's also quite graceful for a big man. His monstrous forehand is hit with relative ease, and his footwork enables him to put his smooth effortless swing on pretty much everything that comes over to his side of the court. He's also developed a really good sense of when to come in behind a forehand and he's doing good things with his volley when he does.

If his impressive defeats of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the last two rounds are any indication, Tomas Berdych is moving into another phase of his career. With each big victory, his sense of belief will grow, and with each additional surge of belief, he'll no doubt be even tougher to defeat.

He'll need every modicum of belief he can get, as he is set to face Rafael Nadal in Sunday's final. He's lost six consecutive matches against the 2008 Wimbledon champ, and the Spaniard will likely put him under more pressure than he has dealt with all tournament long.

Berdych has the game to win over Nadal, and he is growing the belief.

But that one piercing question still remains: Does he have the heart?

1 comment:

  1. I would think Berdych has the heart but the question is can he hit through Nadal the way DelPo can and did at the U.S. Open last year. Berdych certainly has the serve and forehand to do it, but think he'll have to play the match of his life to beat Nadal.


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