Australian Open 2015: Berdych cool, calm and collects victory over Nadal
Tomas Berdych beats Rafael Nadal for the first time in 17 attempts to reach the Australian Open semi-finals
The Rod Laver arena rocked to its foundations on first Friday when the earthquake hit: Andres Seppi broke the habit of lifetime to beat the four-time Australian Open champion, world No2 Roger Federer, for the first time in 10 previous attempts.
If there was a tsunami to follow, it was not expected to arrive in the formidable shape of No7 seed Tomas Berdych. For big, powerful, smart and consistent as the Czech is, impressive as his record in Majors—at least the semis of all four and a finalist at Wimbledon—and confident as he had increasingly become, he owned one of the most unenviable records in the Open era.
In 17 previous matches against Rafael Nadal, through almost 10 years of competition, Berdych had been unable to beat the mighty Spaniard. Should he lose once more, his would become the tour’s longest losing streak. But the storm was indeed about to hit Melbourne Park.
The signs had been there for those who looked. Nadal was only newly back from a year of repeated injury problems and appendicitis that meant he had played only seven matches between Wimbledon and the end of 2014. He looked rusty when he opened his account in the Middle East, first at the Mubadala exhibition event, then in a first-round loss in Doha. And he had looked vulnerable in overcoming qualifier Tim Smyczek in five sets in the second round in Melbourne.
That tough match, however, seemed to be just what Nadal needed, and he had little trouble against No14 seed Kevin Anderson to reach the quarter-finals.
Yet Berdych had a look about him. He was cool and confident—and not just in breaking with the dayglo trend this year in favour of ice-blue and white—and in discarding his ever-present cap. During the off season, he had become engaged to long-term girlfriend, and he had also taken on Andy Murray’s former associate Dani Vallverdu as his coach. Here now was one relaxed and determined man.
He started the season by reaching the final in Doha, and had not dropped a set against some tough early opponents to reach his fifth quarter-final in a row in Australia. Last year, indeed, he reached his first semi-final, and had designs on doing so again—but for his nemesis.
Nadal, however, predicted that their past record would mean nothing: “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. It is a different story this time. The way we arrive to the match is not going to affect what happens in the match, I’m sure of that. He’s a great player. I have success against him, but I have had chances to lose against him. I remember in 2012, I had a very, very tough match against him here. I was close to being two sets to love down. He’s a player that is top level.”
This time around, Nadal actually did go two sets to love down, and in the space of an hour.
Where Nadal received serve over a metre behind the baseline, Berdych stepped in. Where Nadal’s famed forehand went astray, Berdych’s hit the corners, making great inroads on Nadal’s backhand wing in particular. Where Nadal’s serve failed to penetrate his opponent’s game, despite a high percentage of first deliveries, Berdych made hay with his, if not making outright winners then by opening the court wide for a one-two finish to the opposite corner.
It was clinical, effective, and gave Nadal not a chance to do what he likes best: work himself into full running form. Indeed the fleet-footed aggressive Spaniard looked slow, indecisive—and defensive.
In the first set, Berdych broke in the fourth game, courtesy of two poor forehands from Nadal, fought off a break point for 4-1, and then broke to take the set, 6-2. And if that was quick, the second was even more of a shock for Nadal’s many fans.
Berdych upped his serving level, dropping only one point in 13 first serves. Nadal, for his part, won only six from 15, and a poor backhand into the net conceded an immediate break, a double fault the second. Within another 10 more minutes, Berdych had broken again for rare 6-0 set. Could Nadal mount a comeback, in his characteristically bullish way?
He did, despite the Berdych winner-count cranking up to 26 for the set—against only 12 errors. Nadal fought off break point at 3-4 to huge roars from a crowd willing him to stage a comeback—and Nadal almost obliged with a couple of break chances at 4-4—saved by some fine serving from Berdych.
Nadal then saved two match points when serving at 5-6 to take it to a tie-break, and came back from 1-5 to level at 5-5. But Berdych, still cool, still calm to the point of serene, took the next two points for the set and a famous victory, 7-6(5)
Such was the shock not just at the loss but at the style and the margin of the defeat, that Nadal was asked if he felt unwell: “No. I am feeling OK. Just was not my day. I didn’t play with the right intensity, with the right rhythm, and the opponent played better than me.
“I am not very happy because I didn’t compete the way I wanted to compete the first two sets But I tried my best again in the third. I was closer. I had some chances with four-all, some breakpoints. The tiebreak, I was there fighting even though the situation was tough. But he played aggressive. Two sets to love advantage makes the opponent play with more calm than if he is one set to love or one set all. That’s a big difference.”
Berdych gave credit to his new coaching partnership for some successful tactics, but would reveal no details—hardly surprising when he knows the stature of the remaining men he may face in the semis and, if successful, the final. But he was delighted with this win.
“Oh, it feels great. I mean, really the good thing is, the plan that we put together was the right one. Everything was working. I was able to execute it really well. But still, I mean, until the last point you can’t think about anything else. You have to really keep going till the last one. When it’s done, it’s done. It’s great.
“But I might be thinking about it and enjoying the time probably till tomorrow morning. When I wake up, I need to get myself ready for another one. There is a still long way to go in this tournament and I need to be ready for it.”
He will next play either Andy Murray or Nick Kyrgios, with Novak Djokovic perhaps looming at the weekend. Berdych has beaten the world No1 only twice in 19 matches… but his victory today proves that that counts for nothing.