Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ballin' Berdych

He's big, he's bad, but he's never been past the fourth round of the Australian Open. Could this be the year?

--- San Francisco

We all know that Tomas Berdych ran the gamut of extreme highs (French Semi and Wimbledon final) and extreme lows (lost 11 of 14 to finish the season, including a first rounder at the U.S. Open) in 2010.

But anybody who relegated the 25-year-old Czech to their mental scrapheap might want to reconsider. Why? Because Berdych has game, and even if he might be prone to agonizing spells of listless, unconvincing tennis, he still remains one of the bright spots in the men's game, and one of a very small handful that could realistically be considered as a threat to break through and actually win a Slam.

Sure, it's a long shot. I'll give you that. But what so many prognosticators who have been selling off Berdych stock over the winter are forgetting is that he doesn't need to be a pillar of consistency to get it done. Sure, he's been bad of late. Sure, it's maddening. But these facts alone don't change the reality: Berdych can do it, and if he finds his best game over the next ten days, the time could be now.

As I watched Berdych come back from a set down to overpower German Philipp Kohlschreiber today, I saw many glimpses of the player that did so much damage last spring and summer on the clay of Roland Garros and the pristine lawns of Wimbledon. Sure, there were also patches of scratch-your-head and roll-your-eyes errors, but who doesn't have them over the course of a three hour match? (Especially when they go for the type of shots Berdych goes for.)

Here's my theory on why there will always be two Berdych's, and why he'll probably get better as he matures at bringing the good one to Slams and the bad one to ATP 250 events: Berdych's game is predicated on high octane offensive firepower, and he showed us all what type of mind boggling tennis he is capable of when it all clicks into place last year.

But Berdych is also a very big boy, at 6'5" and 200 lbs, and he needs to be very physical on the court to achieve his goals. We've all seen enough of Berdych to know that he doesn't generally beat a player by outfoxing them -- he beats them by getting to balls and generating massive power from improbable places on the court.

While it might have seemed easy to us while we were kicking back on the couch with our pints of Ben and Jerry's, the long summer obviously wasn't so easy for Berdych.

So he tanked the second half of the year. Big deal.

Now that Berdych has evolved into an offensive player that pretty much plays all-or-nothing tennis, the state of his game depends on the state of his body more than ever. That Berdych lost effectiveness as the year wore on (after all those matches) shouldn't really come as a surprise. But to think that he's not capable of reenergizing himself, and doing once again what he did just 6 short months ago, one would have to be delusional.

He can do it alright. And maybe next time he has a chance to do it, he will. Stranger things have certainly happened, and to players far less talented.

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