By Evan Valeri
The upcoming 2013 Australian Open quarterfinal match between Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych marks the thirteenth time the two players will face off. Out of the previous twelve matches the Birdman was only able to capitalize once, taking out the Serb in straight sets during the 2010 Wimbledon semi finals. The last time the two met in a major was down under in 2011, a contest which Djokovic won, 6-1, 7-6, 6-1. Throughout the course of the last two years the two have played six other times. Berdych was able to take first set during three of the matchups, just to lose the next two. Does Berdych have what it takes to beat the reigning champ and world number one and advance to the semifinals in Melbourne?
The two players have very unique games which are quite different from one another. Djokovic plays a great all court style which has shown very few chinks in the armor over the past two seasons. He is able to play magically from all areas of the court. Opponents have said that even when he is playing defense he seems to stay offensive. He has a serve which has came together nicely over the years, giving him the ability to mix up spin, placement, and speed. He keeps his opponents guessing better than anyone. Djokovic is capable of ripping forehands and backhands from anywhere on the court with equal success. It’s hard to pick on one wing over the other when playing the Djoker. Whenever necessary he stays on top of the baseline and plays aggressively ,moving players wherever he pleases as though he has them on a string.
Berdych on the other hand has an aggressive baseliner’s mentality. He has a very conventional style of game compared to many other players on tour. Where you see players like Novak running side to side and hitting a majority of groundstrokes from an open stance, Berdych prefers to step into the ball often hitting from a square or semi open stance. He holds the racquet with a semi-western forehand grip, which is the most popular forehand grip on tour today. Where he differs is that many players follow-through lower on the forehand side, somewhere between the elbow and shoulder. This allows them to quickly come over the ball and apply tremendous amounts of topspin. Many of Tomas’ forehand follow-throughs are high over his shoulder. He has a smooth, classic, flat hitting style, barely dropping the racquet below the ball and driving through with great extension. This flat hitting style allows him to be very aggressive and hit massive groundstrokes which keep opponents on the defensive. Berdych moves well for his 6’5” height but playing defense isn’t exactly a strength for the Czech.
Djokovic is number one in the world because he has the most complete game physically but more important, mentally. He knows how to get it done. As I stated earlier throughout the past two years Berdych was able to win the first set fifty percent of the time, yet couldn’t capitalize. Novak has no problem playing from behind and is one of those guys who is hard to stay in front of. He copes better with high pressure situations than anyone else on tour.
Take a look at Djokovic’s last two five set matches during the Australian Open. At one point against Nadal in the final last year it seemed like he was gassed and had nothing left in the tank. Where in reality, he saved some energy and stayed in the match by cranking winners and ending points quickly at opportune moments. This allowed him to really turn it on and play spectacular tennis when it counted in the fifth set and come away the victor. During this tournament his previous round match against Stan Wawrinka was another epic, which he won 12-10 in the fifth. The last point of the match said it all. A grinding rally which included Wawrinka ripping two balls to Novak’s backhand side that didn’t seem retrievable that late in the fifth set, to set up a short approach shot, which Novak flicked a backhand off from knee level for a crosscourt passing shot winner to end the match. To cap it all off Novak knows how to win and Berdych has had a hard time throughout his career getting it done against the best players on the biggest of stages.
Besides the physical and mental matchups, this battle features many intangibles that shouldn’t be overlooked. First of all is the amount of time both players have spent on court. Berdych hasn’t dropped a set all tournament and should go into the night match feeling very fresh. Djokovic on the other hand is coming off that grueling five hour victory over Wawrinka in the previous round. Will the world number one come out with a full tank of energy against the world number six player? It’s tough to really say, Novak is probably in the best shape of anyone out there, but when was the last time he had to play a match a day after a five hour dogfight. Secondly, players have said that the courts are playing slightly faster than previous years. This could be in the big hitting Birdman’s favor. The third thing to keep in mind if you are Tomas, is the daunting task of erasing that 1-11 win loss record against Djokovic from memory.
Berdych has a tough task in front of him tonight as he tries to knock off Djokovic but then again nothing is impossible. If he is to prove victorious he will most likely have to keep points short, attacking weak returns, and pulling the trigger whenever he gets a good look. He will also need to win the majority of the rallies lasting less than ten shots. Berdych will also have to serve well and keep Djokovic from getting away early in sets. Tiebreaks could prove to be life or death situations for Tomas, and he needs to win them in order to get it done. Djokovic is the favorite and Berdych will most likely have to play nearly flawless tennis and have a little luck on his side to win. No matter who comes out victorious it should prove to be a fun match for spectators featuring some huge hit winners, unbelievable defensive retrievals, and emotions running high as these two titans battle for a spot in the 2013 Australian Open semifinals.
Evan Valeri is a USPTA P2 tennis teaching professional and has a USTA Sports Science Level 1 certification. He graduated from Ferris State University with a degree in Professional Tennis Management/Marketing and enjoys the technical and coaching side of tennis. You can view his website here: www.totaltennisplayer.com.