Berdych ends Murray streak in Paris

It took 3 hours, 12 minutes; it was the match of the tournament so far and it broke Andy Murray’s 18-match winning streak. It also put Tomas Berdych through to meet Roger Federer in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Masters here after the Swiss overcame a shaky start to defeat Juan Monaco 6-3, 7-5.

Berdych eventually came through 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 in a contest that, in the Czech’s words, “had everything.” This included some amazing rallies and incredible gets by Murray as he chased down enormous forehands and twice fought back from seemingly hopeless positions, such as 2-5 in the second set and down two points to five in the second-set tiebreak, only to lose out in the end after staving off two match points.

There were break points galore but very few converted — Murray two out of 15 and Berdych two out of 14 — and, on top of that there was controversy. In the fourth game of the third set, Berdych, unhappy that the two cans of three new balls each did not seem to match, asked referee Fergus Murphy to have three of them changed. Three new balls were thrown into the mix even though the other three had been played with for a game. The average club hacker wouldn’t notice the difference but these guys inspect balls as if they were searching for microbes in a lab and, sure enough, when Murray missed two straight forward shots when he had 15-40 to go ahead 3-1 on the Berdych serve he lodged an animated complaint. He had an argument because he had not been shown the new balls and didn’t realize they were brand new. As the balls fluff up quickly on this rough, slow surface, it can make a difference.

The conversation continued at the changeover after Berdych had escaped to level at 2-2 and Murray received a code of conduct warning. Why? “Because I said ‘bollocks’ to one of the umpire’s answers,” said Murray.

But Murray was quick to divert the press conference conversation away from such matters.

“I’m not here to criticize anyone,” he said. “We just played a three-hour-something match and it was really entertaining. Let’s remember it for that. It’s not about the court, the umpire, the balls, whatever went on. I don’t know if you enjoyed watching it but it was good at the end.”

Well said. Because it was.

“Sometimes Berdych had to hit three winners within a point just to win the point,” said Heinz Gunthardt, Steffi Graf’s former coach who now commentates for Europsort. “Murray’s speed is amazing.”

Berdych was rightly elated at having beaten Murray for the third straight time.

“It think it was a great game,” he said. “I love to go on court and try to do matches like that. That’s the best feeling.”

He will have another chance at great feelings Saturday when he meets Federer, another player over whom he has had recent success. Apart from beating the Swiss at Wimbledon last year, he has won three of their last four meetings. However the big Czech will probably not feel as fresh as his opponent after the grueling duel with Murray.

Federer, however, knows he will have to up his game. He was not at his smoothest against Monaco. He thought that Berdych and Murray played a better standard of tennis than he and the Argentine.

“I’m just happy I moved on,” he said. “Tomorrow is a different day. Who knows, maybe I can play a bit better.”

Federer is very keen to win this event because he has never done so. In fact, his best previous performance was 12 months ago when he reached the semifinal and missed five match points against Gael Monfils. He will need to put that nightmare out of his mind.

The day with all the 11’s had started badly when Novak Djokovic admitted that his shoulder was still giving him trouble and defaulted his match against French favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. At the moment there is no reason to believe that Djokovic won’t be able to play the ATP Finals in London in 10 days time.

Tsonga, who won this title in 2008, may be surprised to find himself playing John Isner in Saturday’s semifinal after the giant American upset No. 4 seed David Ferrer 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

If it is possible for a 6-foot-9-inch man to sneek through a draw undetected, then Isner has given it a good try after beating Stan Wawrinka in a tough three-setter in the opening round. After that he despatched Igor Kunitsyn and Feliciano Lopez without breaking stride and then found himself running into tougher opposition in the form of Ferrer, the wiry little Spaniard who had won all three of their previous meetings.

Although Isner dominated the first set, it seemed that Ferrer had turned the tide when he won the second but Isner is no longer a one-shot pony. True, his massive serve anchors his game but the feather-like cross-court drop shot, followed by a lovely touch volley in the penultimate game of the match, proved that he has added some skillful touches to his armory.

Isner’s recent stretch of fine form that has seen him win 25 of his last 31 matches, including appearing in three finals, will ensure that he moves back into the top 20 after finishing last year at No. 19.