Beating Tomas Berdych to win the ATP Masters 1000 title in April was Andy Roddick’s highlight of the year coming into London for the ATP World Finals. And that made Wednesday’s 7-5, 6-3 loss to the big Czech in his second round-robin match all the more exasperating.
Apart from that April win in Miami, Roddick has beaten Berdych two other times early in the year and enjoys an overall 6-2 career edge over him. The domination seemed destined to continue when Roddick held two set points at 5-4 in the first set, only to see Berdych unleash two great forehands. And then, just to emphasize this was not the man who had won only eight matches in 21 attempts since reaching the Wimbledon final in July, Berdych produced a magnificent half-volley pickup off the backhand to hold serve.
Suddenly Roddick, whose serve had dominated to such an extent at the start that he lost only four points on it in his first five service games, found himself under pressure. These are two big men and they both hit a tennis ball with tremendous power, but Berdych hits it flatter and, once he is in his rhythm on a court that gives him as much time as this one, he becomes difficult to handle.
The defeat left Roddick with an 0-2 record and only one set victory, which, in the round-robin system, puts a player on the very edge of the trap door to elimination. Only a series of very strange results in the remaining matches could enable him to make it through to the single-elimination semifinals.
During his post-match news conference, trying to keep the sarcasm quotient to acceptable levels, Roddick struggled to answer a question about having regrets at using different tactics than those he used in his closer battle with Rafael Nadal on Monday.
"Well, they’re different players," he said. "Generally, when you play different people, you have different tactics. I mean, I’ve beaten him three times this year. Six overall. I feel I have a pretty good idea of what to do. Now, if you don’t execute it, it makes most game plans look stupid."
On his set points Roddick felt it was more a question of Berdych stepping up and surprising him with good shots than anything he did wrong. Well, except read the Czech’s mind. "First return, I hit well," Roddick said. "I came under it, hit a really good forehand. You know, he took a kind of chance, a little bit. He hadn’t gone to the forehand on a second serve. Might have been the only two all day. He went there on both of them. Obviously I wasn’t looking forehand on either one. Obviously, in retrospect, I should have been."
In retrospect, Roddick might also be wondering why Berdych, never a player overladen with self confidence, should have chosen this particular moment to rediscover the kind of form that sent him into the top 10 in the first half of the year. His slump after Wimbledon was as surprising as his rise, but Peter Fleming, now a top analyst with Sky Sports in the UK, believes the thought of being a top five player was just too much for Tomas. "He just wasn’t ready for it," said Fleming. "Didn’t know how to handle that kind of expectation."
But Berdych is learning how to fight the demons. Asked how he managed to win only four points in an entire set against Nikolay Davydenko in Paris two weeks ago, Berdych replied, "That’s how it was at Bercy. It’s already past, it’s gone. We’re here. I lost so many matches this year. If I would be thinking of that, only the matches I lost …"
Berdych will be thinking only positive thoughts when he faces Nadal in his last round-robin match Friday but, like Roddick, he will need help from other people if he is to survive in a group that includes the world No 3, Novak Djokovic, to whom he has already lost.
Wednesday evening Djokovic came quickly out of the blocks against Rafael Nadal and, for a while the pair produced some of the best tennis we have seen here all week. Serves were swapped as both men went for their shots, creating incredible angles; testing each other to their limits. But at 5-5, Djokovic started to have a a problem with his contact lens and, in an effort to rectoify the problem, the disappeared for a lenthy bathroom break.
But the Serb was still affected by the problem on the resumption and, although he battled on, Nadal was in a rampant mood and seized control of the match to win 7-5, 6-2.
"I was sorry him — he don’t see very well the ball," Nadal said afterwards. "But my level was very high tonight and now I am in a very good position in the group."
Nadal was asked about the conversation he had had with the umpire. "He was telling me I had to play faster," he replied. "I told him this is a friendly match; we have very good relations and I have no problem with him taking seven minutes for the three minute time out because of his eyes. So don’t put pressure on me to play five seconds faster."