The big Czech 30-year-old, who has reached at least the semis of all four Grand Slams and the World Tour Finals, and has led his country to Davis Cup victory twice, is one of the very few men on the tour to have broken the stranglehold of the top four in Masters competition.
Berdych won the Paris title back in 2005, and although he has not been able to claim another—and few have—he has reached at least the semis of eight of the nine Masters multiple times, and even at the ninth, the Rogers Cup, he has made the quarters three times.
Last year alone, he reached the quarters at all but the Canadian tournament, making the semis twice and the final in Monte Carlo.
Yet despite his success at the Australian Open, the Miami Masters, and the indoor Paris Masters, Indian Wells has, relatively speaking, proved resistant to Berdych’s powers: an 18-11 record, with the semis in 2013 his best run.
Murray’s record across the board is, of course, considerably more impressive: two Grand Slam titles, 11 Masters titles from 16 finals, and now with a Davis Cup to join his Olympic gold.
But Murray, too, has found Indian Wells relatively resistant to his charms. Of all the nine Masters, only those played on clay have produced a poorer win-loss percentage. His best results in the desert are a final finish in 2009 and the semis last year. Compare that with next week’s Miami, where he has won twice from four finals.
The two men also have another thing in common, which came to the fore in an edgy four-set semi-final in Australia last year: Dani Vallverdu switched from Murray’s camp to Berdych’s a little over a year ago. For what it’s worth, Murray has won all three subsequent meetings.
In this year’s Indian Wells draw, they are scheduled to clash in the quarter-finals, but after tricky Round 2 openers, their routes to that meeting seem to be taking rather different turns.
Berdych started against Juan Martin del Potro, who was playing in just his sixth match of 2016 after returning to the tour at Delray Beach last month. And that was his first tournament since Miami a year ago and the third since Dubai in 2014 as he battled back from repeated wrist injuries.
Perhaps not surprising, then, that the two big men had not met since Roland Garros in 2012—a win to the Argentine. More surprising, perhaps, was that they had met only once on an outdoor hard court, in Tokyo in 2008.
It was always going to be a tough face-off so early in Del Potro’s return to the tour, especially as Berdych has built a decent profile this season already: two semis and two quarters, with just one fly in the ointment, a retirement in his second singles rubber in the Czech Davis Cup tie against Germany last week.
There certainly appeared to be no lingering hamstring problem as Berdych opened his Indian Wells campaign, however. The two men remained locked through most of the first set, not a break on either side, but Berdych then took the lead with a solid tie-break, 7-6(4).
In the second set, although Berdych’s first serve level dropped to just 50 percent, he was winning almost every point on his own delivery: He dropped only five points on serve in total in the second set, and finished the match, after an hour and three-quarters, 6-2, having lost just four points in 35 on his first serve.
Murray, too, was pressed hard in his first match by Marcel Granollers, a former top-20 player whose current 92 ranking belies an unconventional and tricky player.
Most of the Spaniard’s success has come on clay, with four titles from seven finals. Indeed only once had Murray played Granollers on anything but clay, back in 2009, and the Briton’s only loss was courtesy of retirement in Rome in 2013 with a back injury.
Just how dangerous the Spaniard could be was soon evident. He took a 3-1 lead in the first set as Murray double-faulted on break point, and Granollers was slotting repeated backhand winners down the line. Even so, Murray regrouped quickly to break back, and broke again to take the set, 6-4. Remarkably, however, the Briton had made just one outright winner to 14 by the Spaniard.
The second set was also a test for the No2 seed: Murray pressed Granollers hard at 5-5, but the Spaniard saved three break points and, after a love hold by Murray, it went to a tie-break.
Now Murray upped his level, and from 4-3 up, he unleashed three consecutive forehand cross-court winners to seal the set in style after an hour and 40 minutes, 7-6(3).
Murray now plays Federico Delbonis, who beat No32 seed Joao Sousa 7-6(6), 6-4, for the first time. However the Briton has already seen one of the dangers in his eighth, the unpredictable No24 seed Nick Kyrgios, fall by the wayside against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 7-6(6), 7-5. Murray can thus expect Gael Monfils, who beat Pablo Carreno Busta 7-5, 7-6(1), in the fourth round if he beats Delbonis, as expected.
In contrast, Berdych’s path continues as formidably as it began, in the shape of impressive teenager Borna Coric, ranked 47. The young Croat who began the year by reaching his first final in Chennai, beat No29 seed Thomaz Bellucci, 6-2, 6-2.
Round 4 will bring the winner between Bernard Tomic, who beat Rajeev Ram, 6-4, 7-5, and Milos Raonic, who sailed past Inigo Cervantes, 6-1, 6-3.
In the other quarter of this half of the draw, where the other semi-finalist will emerge, saw No3 seed Stan Wawrinka beat Illya Marchenko, 6-3, 6-2, in 65 minutes. The Swiss, who already has two titles this year, will next face Andrey Kuznetsov, who beat No28 seed Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 6-2.
Other seeds to fall were No20 Viktor Troicki to Leonardo Mayer, 7-5, 6-3—he next plays Marin Cilic—and No22 Pablo Cuevas, who lost to Guido Pella, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. Pella, ranked No40, will next play No15 seed David Goffin, who fought off a strong challenge from rising star Frances Tiafoe, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2).
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BIOGRAPHY: Mohamed Salah