Novak Djokovic subdues Tomas Berdych on way to fifth Beijing title

Novak Djokovic beats Tomas Berdych 6-0 6-2 to win his fifth China Open title in Beijing

The chances of the big Czech Tomas Berdych never looked that good when he took on Novak Djokovic in the final of the China Open in Beijing.

In 17 previous meetings, the top-ranked Serb had won 15 times, and in every very one on a hard court.

And then there was the Serb’s record in this city and this country: four consecutive Beijing titles—23 straight match-wins—and back-to-back titles at the Shanghai Masters, too.

And yet in Berdych, the tournament had one of the most consistent players on the tour: not outside the top 10 for over four years, no lower than No7 for three years. And this year he won Rotterdam, reached the final in Dubai and put together his best ever Grand Slam season with a semi and two quarter-final finishes.

But from looking tricky, Berdych’s chances began to look negligible when Djokovic broke him—for only the second time in the tournament—in the very first game of the match. The Czech missed more than half his first serves—one of his biggest weapons—and double faulted, too, while Djokovic fired two aces to hold his own serve.

It got worse. Djokovic broke again, and then held with a smooth ghost into the net for a volley winner: 4-0.

As the pressure intensified on the Berdych serve, losing seven of eight second-serve points, the Czech double faulted again, and even two cracking forehand winners could not keep him in contention. Djokovic read the flat, middle-of-the-box speed of the Berdych first serve, and returned it with interest: 5-0.

Not dominant enough? Djokovic served out to love, 6-0, in half an hour. He had won 28 points to 13 by the Czech.

It was hard to know what Berdych might do. He tried one net approach, not quite sharp enough, only to net the ball. At 0-40, he again double faulted to immediately go a break down.

With a hold to love, 2-0, Djokovic turned the pressure back on the Czech, and the world No1 swung Berdych relentlessly from side to side, switching direction at the drop of a hat. Djokovic made a rare error on break point in the third game, but pounded a backhand at a lunging Berdych to convert his second chance: 3-0.

It was time to consult the record books. Had anybody won an ATP title without dropping a game? Perhaps Berdych was wondering the same thing: the answer was no.

Berdych, then, upped the stakes in the fourth game, and again in trying to stave off another break in the fifth with a chasing cross-court backhand winner, but then he watched a skimming angled backhand pass him at the net to go 0-5.

His solution was to try and find a willing boy-kid to take his racket, but he failed in that too. The only solution was to fight on, and sure enough, he earned a first break point as Djokovic doubled faulted and then hit a backhand wide.

A buzz of expectancy circled the arena, but Djokovic snatched the moment away to bring up match point.

Then from nowhere, a wayward Serbian forehand brought another glimmer of hope to Berdych, and this time the Czech was lucky. He raised his arms aloft in celebration of the break and his first game, and the arena erupted.

Not content with that, Berdych determined to preserve a little more pride: a first wide swinger of serve; a first one-two winner; a first ace; and a first hold.

In an endearing change-of-ends, Berdych grinned, gave a thumbs-up to the crowd and continued the good fight. Djokovic was clearly, for a moment, thrown out of his rhythm, and Berdych fired a couple more winners to force deuce, but that was it. Djokovic produced some great serving to seal his fifth consecutive title and 24th straight match-win in Beijing, 6-2.

Berdych could do little but smile… perhaps in relief that he had not made 0-6, 0-6 history, but also perhaps in relief that was not drawn in the Djokovic half of the Shanghai draw.

After Berdych had admitted, with a wry smile, that he had tried everything but “that’s tennis”, Djokovic conceded: “It was probably the best performance in a final I ever had. Everything I tried, it worked… Beijing is definitely my lucky place.”

Not much consolation to Berdych, perhaps, but also a sign to the rest of tour that Djokovic is finding the very form that took him undefeated from here to London last year.

Yes, Beijing has reaped big rewards for Djokovic, but then so has China as a whole. He won his first end-of-year title on the magnificent Shanghai centre court in 2008, and now races to the defence his Masters title there, beginning against the young talent of Dominic Theim.

And it would take a brave person to back against him once more in China.

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