Rotterdam 2015: Berdych eyes more milestones in powerhouse Wawrinka final
Tomas Berdych will face Stan Wawrinka in the Rotterdam final after beating Gilles Simon in straight sets
Tomas Berdych seems to get better with every match he plays in Rotterdam. He was unbeaten here last year, and this time around he has been accelerating through the draw like a man on a mission.
It’s possible to find reasons why. He is closing in on the 500th match-win of his career, which only five other men on the tour have managed. In beating Gilles Simon to reach the final, the Czech has come within two matches of that milestone.
Berdych is also aiming to defend a title for the first time: Of his 10 career trophies, the only tournament he has won twice is Stockholm, but not consecutively.
He has put together one of the best starts to 2015 of any player, a leg-busting two finals sandwiched around a semi-final finish at the Australian Open. That’s 13 wins and counting against two losses in around five weeks—and on opposite sides of the globe at that. While Andy Murray talked of the toll of jet lag between Australia and Europe, Berdych has shown not even a hint of fatigue or lassitude. In only one of those 13 wins has he even dropped a set, against Andreas Seppi in the second round here at the Ahoy.
But Berdych’s form since changing coaches during the off season has shown up in the nature of those wins as well. He ended a 17-match losing streak to Rafael Nadal in Australia; made Gael Monfils look ordinary in the Rotterdam quarters; made Gilles Simon, who took out Andy Murray yesterday, look flat.
The Czech progressed to the final in a mere 58 minutes, 6-2, 6-1, made 15 winners to just nine errors, and won 22 of his 23 service points. Even when he came the net, he was devastating, five from five—not that he needed to do so too often.
This was tennis of easy power, tactical accuracy, variety in spin and direction, with both down-the-middle and wide-kicking serves. Against a man a man who had beaten him six times out of nine and who is capable of wearing down the fittest of players, as Simon is, Berdych won 70 percent of the points.
So 2015 is producing some of Berdych’s finest, and for a player who has been ranked between Nos5 and 7 for almost three and a half years, and has not dropped outside the top 10 since he reached the Wimbledon final in 2010, that is saying something.
But now more than ever, as Berdych approaches his 30th birthday, he seems to go about his trade with an increasingly confident bearing and calm—certain that there is more to come.
Last year, and for the first time, he reached at least the quarter-finals of three out of the four Majors, including his first semi-final at the Australian Open—a feat he repeated a fortnight ago when beating Nadal.
He has won titles on hard, clay and grass courts, indoors and out. He has been one of the most active Davis Cup players on the tour, and part of the back-to-back Czech victories in 2012 and 2013. He is also one of a rare band to have reached at least the semis of every Major.
However, if he is to achieve one of those immediate milestones, he must win one more match in the Ahoy arena. And to do that, he will have to turn around the odds against himself once more, just as he did against Nadal and Simon.
It was Stan Wawrinka who came through the other semi-final against Milos Raonic, and playing in just as convincing a style as Berdych. The Swiss has also been accelerating through the week, and played a superb game of power, pace and accuracy against Gilles Muller in the quarters, dropping only one point on 29 serves and making just one unforced error in the first set.
In Raonic, he played a young man producing a near impenetrable serve throughout a terrific battle of wills and mighty hitting that last 1hr 38mins, was decided in two tie-breaks with not a break of serve in sight, and with the two men separated by just one point in 159 at the conclusion.
It was a case of ‘who blinks first’, and the experience and self-belief of Wawrinka took that vital edge at the vital moments.
Wawrinka happens also to hold a historical hold over Berdych, winning their last five matches and 10 out of 15 overall—though there have been some tough contests along the way. And rather like his contemporary Berdych, the Swiss may be staring the age of 30 in the face, but he has matured from ‘almost man’ to ‘Stan the Man’ during a brilliant late blossoming into Grand Slam champion, Masters champion and Davis Cup champion in the space of a year.
Berdych, then, will have to maintain both his composure and his almost flawless ball-hitting of this week to turn another record around, while Wawrinka will need to do the same to win his first ever indoor title.
‘Generation 90’ may be coming over the horizon, but their elders are not ready to give way just yet.