Berdych out to avoid one-hit status
Last year's finalist desperate to avoid membership of Wimbledon's one-year wonder club.
Sunday, 19 June 2011
By Paul Newman | THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY
A question mark hangs over Tomas Berdych as he returns to the scene of his finest hour. Can last year's Wimbledon runner-up build on his achievement or will he join the likes of Chris Lewis, Kevin Curren, MaliVai Washington, Cedric Pioline and Mark Philippoussis as one who never climbed the mountain again?
Wimbledon's list of champions over the last 30 years features many of the greatest players ever to wield a racket Borg and McEnroe, Becker and Edberg, Sampras and Agassi, Federer and Nadal but the roll-call of beaten finalists reveals a different story.
Lewis, brushed aside by John McEnroe in 1983, never won a title. Curren, beaten by Boris Becker two years later, won just five. Washington, who lost to Richard Krajicek in 1996, never made the world's top 10. Pioline, crushed by Sampras in 1997, won five titles in a 14-year career. Philippoussis, Federer's first victim in a Wimbledon final, in 2003, never realised his full potential.
Berdych has not reached a final since losing to Nadal at Wimbledon, after a run which saw him beat Federer in the quarter-finals, ending the latter's chances of making a seventh successive final. The 25-year-old Czech lost in the first round of the US Open and from August to the new year won only four times.
"I was in a new situation," he said. "Everyone was expecting too much from me. It was like: 'You've reached the semi-finals at the French Open, the final at Wimbledon, so what are you going to do next?' I heard it from every single corner. It doesn't help. It doesn't change anything. It doesn't help you to feel good on court. When people went on court against me they thought: 'OK, I'm playing against Berdych, let's try to beat him because he's had good results.'''
Berdych admitted that the situation had got to him by the time he lost to Federer in their next meeting, in Toronto. "I was thinking too much about the quarter-final at Wimbledon. I was thinking about things like ranking points, but it was much too early to be thinking about that. I was thinking too much about other things. All I can say is that it was an experience and experiences aren't always good. Sometimes you have to go through bad experiences as well.''
Berdych can look uncomfortable in the spotlight, a fact reflected in the two places he calls home. He splits his time between Monaco, where he enjoys the anonymity, and Prostejov, an unassuming town in his home country. A big attraction there is the local tennis club, where many of the best Czech players of recent times, including Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek, have trained.
"Practising there with players like that helped me a lot," Berdych said. "Everybody told me: 'Why don't you stay in Prague? You have the airport there. It's much easier.' But I hate the big cities. Everything takes so long getting to the courts, going home. In Prostejov it takes me four minutes to drive from my apartment to the club."
When Berdych set out on his professional career he was regarded as one of the best of a group that included Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils. At 6ft 5in and more than 14st, he has always given the ball a mighty thump, making up for a comparative lack of mobility. He was one of the first of his generation to succeed on the senior circuit, beating Federer at the Athens Olympics and winning his first Masters title the following year, at the age of 20. He has not been out of the world's top 30 since, but it was not until last summer that he made his Grand Slam breakthrough, first at the French Open, where he lost to Robin Soderling in a five-set semi-final, and then at Wimbledon.
He says he felt no nerves in last year's final. "People ask if I felt the pressure the night before but I didn't feel I had anything to worry about. My parents came over and we were all staying in a house. We had a barbecue the night before the final and we watched the World Cup on television. In the morning I was feeling good and everything was fine. I did my warm-up and everything was normal. The crowd were cheering as we went on the court and I thought: 'Hey, this is it. This is why I play tennis, just to get here. Why be nervous? You're here to enjoy and play.'''
He retains only happy memories of the match. "It's great whenever I see a photograph or something that reminds me that I was in the Wimbledon final. Even in that moment on court after the match it felt great, but later on you appreciate it even more. You know you were the one who was in the final. I just hope that one day I'll go one better."