Men’s World No. 7 Tomáš Berdych had been having a good season so far – recently winning, for example, the Hopman Cup in Australia with women’s player Petra Kvitová; but on Tuesday he faced an even bigger challenge: trying to get past Spain’s Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open to reach his first-ever semi-final at the Grand Slam tournament.
From the get-go it was a tight match: the first two sets could hardly have been closer. In the first set, both players kept serve to take it down the wire. In the final game before the tie-break Berdych had a commanding 40–0 lead, but blew the chance to close Rafa out and Rafa took the game. But Berdych recovered in the tiebreak and was able to keep enough pressure on to win the first set.
In the second, though, things began to sour somewhat for Berdych, who saw his serve broken for the first time in the match. The player was still able to dig deep and tie it at 4-4. For the second time, the set came down to a tiebreak, as nail-bitingly tense as the first – but now Nadal prevailed.
In the third set, both players broke serve back-to-back and the match was soon levelled at two games each. So far throughout the contest, Berdych had been able to rely on a strong first serve and had been able to repeatedly punish Nadal on the Spaniard’s second.
But Nadal was able to answer at key points and broke Berdych again to make it 3:2 in the third set. Berdych, as Australian Open Radio reported, began to lose the “thread” of the match and Nadal “tightened the screws”. Berdych was now in the position of having to fight his way back in, despite having dominated so well earlier. He couldn’t stop the Spaniard, though, who served out the third set, taking a commanding 2-1 lead. Here’s how Australian Open Radio described it:
“...just clears the net, Nadal down the backhand wing, Berdych throws up the lob and Nadal will smash... that’s a brilliant smash! He bounces up and down, he punches the air!”
After that things slipped away further for Berdych: he clung and clawed to keep himself in it, possibly also fighting a hip muscle pull, but he never fully regained his earlier brilliance. The deathblow came on his own serve in the final game: Nadal broke serve one last time and the final score, shortly after midnight in Melbourne, was 7:6, 6:7, 4:6, 3:6.
“It’s midnight, the witching hour, Nadal with match point. Nadal goes down the line and that’s a winner by Nadal! A match he looked so vulnerable in, in the 2nd set tiebreak, he has come through!”
By winning, Nadal set up a clash with classic rival Roger Federer of Switzerland. As for Berdych? In the end, the Czech player certainly had his moments and had things gone a little more in his favour, he might have gone through: he will especially rue the tie-break loss in the second set.
Czech fans’ attention will understandably now shift greatly to the other Czech hope at the Australian Open: world No. 2 Petra Kvitová, who will face Italy’s Sara Errani in their quarterfinal. If she can keep her championship hopes alive, she also has a shot at becoming the women’s No. 1.