Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic smiles as he walks off the court after beating
Richard Gasquet of France during their third round match at the Australian Open
tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011.
Mature Berdych a threat
Friday, 21 January, 2011 | By Matt Cronin
Tomas Berdych has made eight trips to Melbourne, but this is the first time that he's entered the event as a legitimate title threat. After his 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-2 dismantling of the talented yet enigmatic Richard Gasquet in the third round on Thursday, the sixth-seeded Czech declared himself ready to break out
"I didn't give him a chance to step in and put pressure on me," said Berdych, who was cheered on by a vocal group of Czech-Aussie fans. "The conditions were tough with the wind, so I had to be careful and patient and wait for my chances. The tiebreak was important and you never know if you can lose a couple points and we'd still be on court."
Gasquet changed it up after the first set and began to attack more, no longer waiting for the Czech's mistakes. But nonetheless, Berdych is in much better physical shape than he was two years ago, is a good deal quicker and can hurt his opponents from the back court and at the net.
He's a more knowledgeable player and doesn't get as wild as he used to, like when he blew a two-sets-to-love lead against Roger Federer in the fourth round of Australian Open 2009. Reaching the Roland Garros 2010 semifinals (where he bested Andy Murray) and Wimbledon 2010 final (where he took out Federer) gave him a load more confidence.
Against Gasquet in what could have been a very complicated match, he registered 39 winners and only committed 17 unforced errors and closed out the match with maximum efficiency.
"I'm in a different position now, because before I was the one chasing the big names and now I'm in the opposite position," he said. "That's really nice to be in a new situation but I still nee to improve things in my game."
Berdych has now reached the fourth round four times in Melbourne, losing to Federer twice and to Nikolay Davydenko once. This time around, because of his improved ranking position, he won't have to play a higher seed, and thus will confront the winner of the match between No. 9 Fernando Verdasco and Kei Nishikori.
"Now I don't have to play Rafa or Roger this early," he said. "It's tough to say it's easier, but if you put it together with Roger and Rafa's name, it is easier. But it will still get harder and harder."
While Berdych has been in great form during this week and had an excellent first half of 2010, he slid after Wimbledon, complaining of having too much pressure on him after reaching the final.
But he appears to have put things back in perspective and says he's more comfortable being a player to watch. He wants to end the year in the top eight again and if he makes charge in Melbourne will go a long way toward that goal.
"I'm starting to learn with this new situation and really stating to enjoy it," he said. "Even today I lost my serve in the first game and I had the feeling that I would get through anyway."