Impressive Berdych cruises into Doha quarters with Djokovic and Ferrer

Tomas Berdych beats Blaz Kavcic in straight sets to reach join Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer in the Doha quarter-finals

Novak Djokovic, the world No1 and top seed at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open this week, may be playing his first pre-Australian Open tournament since 2009, but there is no doubting his intent in his debut appearance in Doha.

Just as he had in the first round, he dropped only three games in beating Sergiy Stakhovsky, 6-2, 6-1, to take his place in the quarter-finals after a total of just two hours on court.

The No4 seed David Ferrer also got some wind in his sails after a sluggish opening three-setter against qualifier Thiemo de Bakker, and dispatched fellow 30-something Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, 6-3, 6-2.

The feisty Ferrer is on course to meet Djokovic in the semis, though first he will meet Dustin Brown, while Djokovic has the unenviable prospect of Ivo Karlovic, who this week joined the 9,000 club—aces, that is. Only two men have hit more in their careers than the 6ft 11in 35-year-old, and there is no sign of a let-up for the 27-ranked Croat: He has hit 46 aces thus far in his four sets this week.

In the bottom half of the draw, however, the third seed in Doha has been making his own quiet and confident progress into the quarters. Tomas Berdych knocked out Denis Istomin in the first round 6-1, 6-4, and looked little short of perfect in taking out Blaz Kavcic in under an hour, 6-1, 6-2. But it was the style of his win that impressed.

Here was an aggressive but patient Berdych, ready to make first-strike winners—there were 24 of them—and ghost to the net for eight winners there, too. His serve was dominant, with not a break point offered, and he played barely a shot behind the baseline.

He goes on to meet the 2013 champion Richard Gasquet—also a straightforward winner over Simone Bolelli, 6-3. 6-2—in a half that has opened wide since the first-round loss of Rafael Nadal.

This is not the first time Berdych has enjoyed success during the first week of the season: He has made the semis in Adelaide, Brisbane and Chennai. In his only debut in Doha last year, though, he lost in the first round—but he has hit the ground running this time around, and hinted after his second match that he and his new coaching team had been working on some changes to his game—though of course did not elaborate!

It surprised many when, in the off-season, he took on Andy Murray’s former colleague Dani Vallverdu, parting ways with his long-term coach Tomas Krupa in the process. Berdych also recruited a new fitness trainer, Azuz Simcich, and while the big Czech has always possessed a powerhouse physique, he has certainly looked sharp and loose in playing some aggressive tennis this week.

He told ATPWorldTour.com before Christmas about his enthusiasm, after more than four years ranked well inside the top 10, for making changes ahead of 2015.

“When I finish, I want to be able to say I tried everything and in that sense I was looking to make the decision to change my team. At the last minute, the news came up that Dani was available and it helped in all my decisions. I approached him and it all started.

“The thing I like most about Dani is that he’s a fresh new guy… He’s going to see my tennis with different eyes, which is very important because I think when you’ve spent a long time with a certain team, you can kind of lose the wider angle of the tennis perspective.

“It’s not about miracles. It’s about the constant preparation and constant work… I’m giving myself the opportunity that when I step on the tennis court, I’ll have all the cards in my hand.”

There is no doubting the Czech’s consistency over the years, but he has also been consistent in struggling against the handful of men ranked above him. With Djokovic, he has won just twice in 19 meetings, against Nadal only three wins in 21, and none since 2006. Against Federer, he has enjoyed a little more success: It’s a losing record overall, but with wins in two of their last three matches—and in the Dubai final last year Berdych was a set and a break up before Federer turned it around.

So it is admirable that the 29-year-old is still determined to make changes, make improvements. And this is a time of the season where he could well ‘do a Wawrinka’ who, at a similar age, made changes and made his own move to his first Grand Slam in Australia.

By chance, Berdych also achieved his best result in Australia last year, pushing Wawrinka very close in the semis into the bargain. Indeed the Czech has reached at least the quarters in Melbourne in the last four years, though is a former finalist at Wimbledon and a semi-finalist in the other two Majors to boot.

Australia launched what went on to be another strong season in 2014, with Berdych ending the year in fourth place for match-wins, third for both hard-court and indoor wins, and with two titles from five finals. And judging from his tennis in Doha, he is not just keen to do better this year but is playing the kind of tennis that might achieve it.

And if he doesn’t? Well it certainly won’t be for lack of effort.

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