ATP World Tour Finals: Berdych outmuscles Roddick
It’s the second round, and the second wave of results brings a fresh appraisal of who might be heading for the climax of the ATP World Tour Finals.
Andy Murray cantered into his second match as top dog, one of the rottweilers, after a strong win against strong man Robin Soderling. That all changed with a lacklustre showing against Roger Federer.
Where Federer had looked rusty and ill-at-ease with the slow courts in his first match, he tackled his second as though he had been practising ever since.
Where the Swiss was a pussycat against David Ferrer, he turned into a tiger against Murray, attacking the second serve with relish -and there were plenty of chances to do so from the Murray racket.
Next came the transformation of Soderling from sluggish heavyweight to powerhouse pummeller. Despite Ferrer rediscovering the terrier in his DNA to put up a spirited defence, the Swede’s vastly improved serve percentage -70 compared with Sunday’s 57 -and rocket-like forehand took their toll.
To Ferrer’s credit, he took full advantage of the single break point opportunity offered to him in the second set to level it at 5-5, but Soderling broke him down completely in the 12th game to take set and match, 7-5, 7-5.
In doing so, he gave himself a chance to qualify for the semis, though Murray still has his nose in front -but only just. Ferrer’s next performance against Murray and Soderling’s against Federer will determine who stays and who goes.
And so to Pool A, playing second in the round robins but far from playing second fiddle in the tournament. Indeed, Rafael Nadal managed -almost -to upstage the Federer blitzkrieg over Murray when he stepped onto court to take his ATP Year-end Champion award on his ‘day off.’
He and Novak Djokovic come into Round Two with a win apiece but their progress gave little indication of who might top their group.
The Djokovic dismissal of a nervous Tomas Berdych showcased the Serb’s fitness, flair and infamous backhand down the line.
Nadal faced a much tougher time against an Andy Roddick determined to show his hard-court prowess. The American played Nadal into the tournament through three hard sets, but also showed that he could still be in contention come Friday if he managed a strong straight sets win over Berdych.
And Roddick certainly started that way, opening with an ace, and touching 137mph by his second service game. He was determined to attack -much as he had done against Nadal -but Berdych looked a more relaxed player than the one who made his debut against Djokovic. He certainly gave no indication of being intimidated when Roddick began pacing the baseline in the shadows as the time ticked through the changes of end.
Despite finding himself 15-40 down when serving to save the first set, he focused on his serve and took the net away from the American. He pulled off a touch volley worthy of Murray to draw level at 5-5.
The Berdych profile visibly began to soar with a couple of confidence-boosting passes down the line reminiscent of his run to the Wimbledon final this year. He took his only break point opportunity at the first time of asking to go 6-5 up, serving for the set. Even an opening double fault did not disturb the Czech’s concentration and he was all over the net to take the set 7-5.
Asked about his failure to convert his two break point chances, Roddick hit the nail on the head. “I don’t think he came into the match with a lot of confidence but winning that first set gave him the confidence.”
Certainly the second set saw Berdych flooded with positive energy, his body language more urgent and eager than it had been all week. He took the initiative, found 130-plus serves, and struck his big forehand with greater zip. In the fifth game, his efforts were rewarded with two break points. A down-the-line effort from Roddick missed by a hair’s breadth and the break was made.
The Roddick racket was smashed and, in effect, so were his hopes for the match, and he knew it: “I was angry at myself and there was no-one else to talk to.”
The American managed to hold serve but, by now, Berdych had 10 forehand winners to his name compared with two for Roddick, and he also led the American in net attacks -and success. The aggression on the Berdych side soon paid dividends, forcing a growing number of errors from his opponent, including the netted forehand that conceded the match.
It was a breakthrough for the Czech, his first win against Roddick this year after three hard-court defeats. He clearly relished his return to form and had nothing but praise for the event and the fans. “The London crowd is definitely one of the best for tennis. The referee doesn’t have to say anything the whole match, it’s really silent. I think that’s the best crowd.”
The crowd enjoyed the Berdych style too, despite their enthusiastic support for Roddick. This was a popular win, and it gives him the chance still to make the knock-outs. It will be Nadal who determines his success, and the Czech is delighted. “I think that’s the perfect schedule for the week, playing possibly the last match of the season against world No1.”
Before that, Nadal faces Djokovic. It’s going to be a nail-biting conclusion.