Basel 2013: Tomas Berdych joins WTF waiting list after Karlovic upset
Basel 2013: Tomas Berdych suffers a surprise first-round defeat by Ivo Karlovic to keep the race to London wide open
The race to fill the last four places for the ATP World Tour Finals has been one of the most fiercely contested in living memory, and with just a dozen or so days of tennis left to play, the final line up is still no closer to settlement.
Rather than watch the closing season of indoor events filter out the also-rans, the results have instead kept the field wide open.
Where Tommy Haas looked destined to fall off the pace, he instead took the title in Vienna.
Richard Gasquet moved to No9 in the race after winning his third title of the season in Moscow. It took him past countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who appeared to be making a strong autumn run after an absence with injury since Wimbledon, only to lose in the second round in Tokyo and the semis in Vienna. And he does not play this week at all—and nor does another contender, Milos Raonic.
In Valenica, the all-but-discarded outsider Nicolas Almagro is still alive, and Roger Federer kept one step ahead of his Basel rivals by winning his opener too. And his position suddenly became all the more rosy after Stan Wawrinka was a shock loser in the first round. Gasquet has still to begin in Basel but, like Wawrinka, he needs to reach the semis to start making points and making ground.
But one player looked as good as past the winning post ahead of Basel: Tomas Berdych needed only to reach the semis in Switzerland to convert his fifth position to a firm qualification. He had failed to do so in Shanghai, losing to Almagro in the second round, and he failed to do so again here, falling to Ivo Karlovic in an eerily similar style to their last distant meeting in Basel.
The two big men—and Karlovic towers over most at 6ft 11in—had played one another four times before, and split their wins, but in the quarter-finals of the 2007 Basel, Karlovic took victory, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. This time around, he lost the first set 4-6, but came good again to take the match with two tie-breaks.
It was all the more impressive, perhaps, because he won this time with far fewer aces than in 2007, a paltry 23 to 38. And the Berdych serving stats were far from poor: 11 aces and just seven points dropped in 47 first serves.
Rather, what makes the 34-year-old Karlovic win stand out is that it is one more success after he missed much of spring and early summer with viral meningitis. He returned to win his first title in five years in Bogota, came through qualifying at the US Open and survived a five-set battle against James Blake, then last week reached the semis in Moscow.
Basel has become something of a bête noir to Berdych, though. This marks his fourth first-round exit here, in a week that saw him slip from his career-high ranking of No5 in August to No7 this week. He still stands next in line for London, effectively at No5 after the withdrawal of Andy Murray, and has a substantial margin of error to play with. One suspects it is still only a matter of when, rather than if, he qualifies.
There were no more upsets at the Swiss Indoors—though two top-10 men falling at the first round was more than enough. Marcos Baghdatis won only his 15th match of the season to beat qualifier Benjamin Becker, 7-6, 6-1. He is likely to face the defending champion and top seed, Juan Martin del Potro, in the second round.
The Argentine, safely qualified for London, took a well-earned break from tennis last week after winning in Tokyo and reaching the final in Shanghai in back-to-back weeks. He begins his defence against Swiss wild card, Henri Laaksonen.
Sixth seed Kei Nishikori went 6-4, 3-0 up against another Swiss, the 32-year-old Marco Chiudinelli, only to be broken back to level at 4-4. Nishikori made another decisive break, though, to win 6-4.
The young Japanese man scored a memorable win over Novak Djokovic in Basel in 2011, but went on to lose to Federer in the final. He also memorably beat Federer in Madrid this year, and while he is the man most likely to benefit from Berdych’s exit in the quarters, he could meet Federer again in the semis.
Before that, Federer has to play Denis Istomin, who beat Horacio Zeballos, while Nishikori will play the dangerous No29, Ivan Dodig, who advanced after only two games when Carlos Berlocq retired with injury.