Tomas Berdych a.k.a. The Birdman - A Fan Site since 2004

Czeching in

Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic celebrates a point against Sergiy Stakhovsky of the Ukraine
during the Rogers Cup at the Rexall Centre on August 10, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.

Czeching in

Bruce Arthur, National Post • Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

At 24, Tomas Berdych still looks like a boy. The freckled face, the shy smile, the soft blue eyes, the tousled hair. When he takes off his ball-cap and his face opens up, he is an overgrown 17-year-old at summer camp. One day Tomas Berdych will be 40 years old and getting asked for ID at the local pub in the Czech Republic, or the local casino in Monaco.

That is probably not why it has taken him so long to grow into his massive talent, which has been slumbering in that 6-foot-5 frame since he was 18 and swinging away in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.

He had spent the intervening time finding new and exciting ways to not live up to his potential, until this year. This year has been different.

"I know that I was doing every day [the] best [that] I can, and it's not [going to] just really happen in couple of weeks, month, one [or] two years, whatever it is," said Berdych, ranked a career-best No. 7 in the world, after a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. "I'm happy that it is now."

This year has been a revelation not just to the tennis world but to the Czech power hitter himself. After reaching one quarter-final in his previous 26 Grand Slams--not easy for a man who rose as high as No. 9 in 2007 -- Berdych slugged his way to the French Open semis, where he toppled Andy Murray. Then he implacably unseated Federer and Novak Djokovic on the way to an appearance in the final at Wimbledon.

He had already beaten Federer and Robin Soderling in Miami, and played Rafael Nadal tough at Indian Wells.

"It shows me that I can really, you know, beat those guys," Berdych said. "And, of course, I mean, for tennis the most important thing [is] to have confidence. But still ... I need to work, not to build it again, but [keep] the kind of confidence which you have after every winning match."

To that end, he took two weeks off after Wimbledon "to calm down all the emotions and just start again ... and not to be, you know, somewhere thinking still about some good results." Still, it was an accumulation of achievement, where before there had always been a trapdoor waiting, usually triggered by Berdych himself.

The most notable failure may have been the two-sets-to-none lead that he squandered to Federer at the 2009 Australian Open, but Berdych was always capable of flatlining against the best. It is a mental game, and Berdych's grasp on those tools tended to slip. It was as if he didn't believe he was good enough, and then wasn't. Collapsing was a specialty.

But instead of falling apart, he has continued to persevere, even after dropping to No. 28 in the world last year. As his coach Tomas Krupa explained to reporters at Wimbledon, "in the Czech mentality, we need a little more time to be good."

Well, he has had time, and pressure with it. The second Berdych showed potential he was saddled with the ghost of Ivan Lendl, just like the Germans are saddled with Boris Becker, and the Swedes with Bjorn Borg, and every Swiss player from now until forever with the spectre of Roger Federer. Expectations can be heavy.

"I mean, as I start to play quite well, win my first tournament and another one and ... so many of them just put me on side with Ivan Lendl," said Berdych. "Well, it's nice to be in the position ... It's very nice. But still, he's a much, much better player, you know, with much better results so far than I do ... So I'm trying my best."

He is not there yet, of course. He has not won a tournament this year; he is merely inching closer to his own undefined ceiling. He might never crack the truly elite echelon. We all want greatness to be fulfilled -- and Berdych has the talent to be great -- but sometimes it just isn't. For all we know, Berdych might rediscover his old habit of wobbling like a top.

And you can see it, just a little. During his businesslike dismissal of Stakhovsky yesterday Berdych would occasionally flub an easy forehand, or send a backhand sailing, and you could feel the tension until he buried the next shot, and the next one. One swing at a time, and maybe he can build something that lasts.

"These are the best moments, you know," Berdych says fondly, remembering Roland Garros and Wimbledon. "Reaching the final and you can just step on the court, walking there for the final. I think that's the moments that -- you know, I think these days if you have whatever money, you can buy whatever you want, but this ... the memories from the tennis are really, really nice.

"This is the reason why you're doing this sport. And you know, the talent is not everything. There is behind it all the hard work, and it's -- that's what I'm trying to do every day. It's these kind of results, you know, to have those moments from the finals, semi-finals. It's really great.

"So I'm happy for that, but I hope I'm not done, and I hope that still the bigger results [are] waiting for me in my career so far."