by Ben Rothenberg on September 24, 2009
Tomas Berdych has long been touted as a possible "next big thing" in men's tennis. He defeated Roger Federer at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, won the 2005 Paris Masters, and has reached a career high ranking of #9. The 6'5'' 24-year old from the Czech Republic has been a fixture in the upper echelons of tennis for several years now, and still remains in the top 20 (currently ranked #16).
Berdych has also finished the past three years as the top ranked Czech in the ATP, and has been instrumental this year in leading the Czechs to their first Davis Cup final in almost thirty years.
I got the chance to talk to Tomas at length during the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC, where he made the quarterfinals. We covered a lot of stuff, so I'm breaking the interview up into two parts, the first of which can be found after the jump
TDF: You entered doubles here with Lukas Dlouhy, who is also Czech. How seriously do you take doubles when you enter it? Are you really trying to win the tournament and get your doubles ranking up?
Tomas Berdych: Well, I wouldnt say that if Im playing doubles its the important thing in my tennis. I take the doubles like practice. We played the match when I had the day off, and I think for my game it really helps me. You serve a lot, come in to the net, and thats really what I need in my singles game. Its like, kind of a practice. But anyway, if Im coming to the court, I want to win the match. We are two on the court, we are as a team. Some days its good, some days its not. [Yesterday] wasnt our best day, so we lost. But for the next time, Ill like to play doubles. But really, as I said, right now its very tough, and the schedule is very tough for singles. So theres no chance to play every tournament in doubles.
TDF: You played doubles in the Davis Cup against Argentina, and you won that match with Radek Stepanek. Do you play doubles now to try to get better for the next round of Davis Cup?
Tomas Berdych: No, I think the Davis Cup is completely different. You play best of five sets, its a team competition, and its really different. I think,with Radek, were playing really good. For us, its better to stay with quality, not with quantity. I think this is a good optionso far we havent lost a match in Davis Cup when we play together. We have a good record, and I hope to keep it as long as we can.
TDF: Do you think the Czech Republic can win the Davis Cup this year?
Tomas Berdych: Well, I think this year we have a pretty good chance. Already weve had two tough opponents, but we played at home. Our crowd, our placeeverything was on our side.
But now were going to the semifinals in Croatia. You never know there; the States played last there, and they lost. You never know whats going to happen there. They have two very good players as well and its semifinals of Davis Cup.
But I think there is a chance we win.
TDF: You played Hopman Cup with your girlfriend, Lucie Safarova. You guys didnt do too well, but how did you like playing with her?
Tomas Berdych: Yeah, its the beginning of the year, and you come after a long time playing indoors. Its really the first week of the year. You come to Australia wanting to take it as a good preparation to the Australian Open. I think its a great chance. You can spend another week with your girlfriend, you can enjoy it.
Its a good place, the tournament is fantastic. You can play three or four singles, then a few mixed matches, so I think its the best preparation for the Australian Open.
TDF: Have you two ever thought about playing mixed doubles at a grand slam?
Tomas Berdych: Uhh no (laughs). I mean, its more from the professional side. I think she would like to play, but for me, when Im playing best of five, its different. Its too much. Imagine one day you play five sets, for four hours, and the next day you are supposed to have the day off, but you have to be like waiting the whole day for one mixed match. Its not good. Thats why I dont want to do it. But we still play some mixed in the Hopman Cup.
TDF: A question about another Czech female tennis player, Nicole Vaidisova. Her ranking has fallen a lot recently, and she lost in the first round of qualifying this week in Stanford, winning only three games. Has there been a lot of talk among the Czechs about whats going on with her?
Tomas Berdych: I mean, with the Czechs, because she quit the Fed Cup, and she quit the national team, she is not popular.
TDF: Not popular with the other Czech players?
Tomas Berdych: Yeah, I would say that. There are many reasons for not playing, but if you just say "Im done, Im not playing," well
The people dont like her as much. Shes living more in the States. So yeah, [quotation fingers] "shes Czech". But shes living so much outside, so I dont know much about her.
But this is a sport. This is tennis. I dont know. I just hope she can get better and thats it.
As promised, here is the second part of the interview I did a little while back with Tomas Berdych. Since making some waves with his comments about Nicole Vaidisova in the first part of the interview, Berdych has had a pretty decent run through the Asian swing and European indoor circuit, making the quarterfinals in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, then notching two big wins in Shanghai before crashing out to Gilles Simon, who would also take him out last week in Valencia.
Along with the rest of the upper echelon of the ATP Paris Bercy Masters 1000 this week, a tournament he won in 2005. Berdych won his first round match on Monday over Vincent Millot, and faces #14-seed Tommy Robredo in the second round later today. Should he win that match, it lines up a potentialthird-round match with Rafael Nadal, a player against whom Berdych has had a very decent amount of success in his career.
After the jump, the second (and final) part of my interview with the current ATP #20.
TDF: Youve won a lot of close matches in your career. You won three third set tiebreakers in Munich on your way to winning the title there this year, so you know how to close out long, tough matches. But youve also had times when youve had leads and then lost, most famously against Federer at the Australian Open this year. What do you think it is youre doing right when you are able to close out those matches, and what happens when you let leads slip? Is it all mental?
Tomas Berdych: It could be. It could be mental when Im winning the close matches, like those three in Munich, and a couple others. Im not giving up until the last point.
For the other side, like the match with FedererI started so good. I was playing my best tennis. I took two sets lead, then it was 3-all. I just lost a really close game on my serve, so it was 3-4. And then yeah. Youre playing with the best player ever, and if you just give him one chance hes going to take it. Thats what happened in that match, and really in the end it was really close. There was no chance to step up and take advantage of something. He just took his chance, and he won it.
TDF: Do you think once he got that break in the third set it was over?
Tomas Berdych: Well, of course, yeah. I lost my serve. And nothing happened after. And then OK, yeah, I lost the set. I think my mistake was that I was not able to stay with him on my serve. I always lost my serve in the beginning of the set, and that gives him so much confidence.
If you stay and you are close to him3-all, 4-all, 5-allhe can be under pressure and can make mistakes.
But if you give him the chance to make a break in the first game, hell stay ahead. So its tough.
TDF: Youve had a lot of success on a lot of different surfaces. Youve won titles on carpet, grass, clay, and hard court, one of the few players who has been able to do that. What do you think is your best surface, and which grand slam do you think you have the best chance of making a good run in or winning?
Tomas Berdych: I would say that its because of the country where I was born. In the Czech Republic, when you are young, you play half of the year indoors on the fast surface in winter, and then the other half of the year you play outdoor clay. Thats why I think I can play on every surface.
But my favorite I would say its hard court, or maybe something a little bit faster, like grass. Something faster, like when I won the title in Tokyo. But then my best result in a grand slam, quarterfinal, was at Wimbledon. So yeah, something fast, like US Open, maybe Wimbledon.
TDF: Youve finished the year as the Czech #1 for three years in a row now. Is that an important title for you, something you take particular pride in?
Tomas Berdych: Well, its not too bad (laughs). Its good to have it, but I think it would be a little bit better if there was more Czech players, and if it wasnt so much only about me and Radek [Stepanek].
The others, they still need a little bit more experience, and some other things. If there is going to be, you know, competition between four, five, six players, then it would be a really good thing for me.
But anyway, its still good (laughs).
TDF: Of all the matches youve played in your career, which one are you most proud of?
Tomas Berdych: Well I think my best, the one that stays in my memory its tough to say. I think it was the first big victory against Roger [Federer], at the Olympic Games in Athens. Because I was really coming up, and until that time I was playing challengers, and really small tournaments. I was around #80-90, I was one of the last players in the draw. So I had just gotten in, and in the second round I was facing the #1 seed. So for me it was the best match ever.
But then, for the finals in Paris Bercy, I was two sets up, and the match was looking pretty good for me. Then I lost two sets, and then I found out what its like to have a big chance to win that tournament. So these two would be it for me.
TDF: Because you had a bunch of big wins like that early in your career, a lot of people were expecting that maybe you would get to top five quickly, and maybe make some grand slam finals. Do you think youve had as much success as you should have, and are you happy with how the last five years have gone?
Tomas Berdych: I would say its OK. Of course, it could be better, definitely. But in tennis, its a very close sport. Youre facing so many good players every week. You have to travel. All of the tennis life is very tough to be a professional.
So far, the most important thing is that I am staying healthy. No bad problems, or long injuries, which is the most important thing.
Im trying to do, every day, 100%, even if Im resting or practicing. In my mind Ive done everything that I could, and thats it. I hope its going to get betterthats why Im playing.
TDF: One last question--what would you like to accomplish in the rest of your career? Is there anything you think you need to accomplish to make your career a success?
Tomas Berdych: Yeah, of course. You build up experience every year. Every year, that gives you more. And after winning a couple of matches, losing matches, you just take that together in your experience, and it moves you a little bit up.
So yeah, I hope the consistency of my game, the main thing my coach and me are trying to work on, gets better. If I can keep it for longer periods of time, thats going to be the best thing that I can do for my future.
I think its going to come together with consistency. If you ask a player "do you want to win the US Open?" of course he is going to say yes. If you beat all the players that you think can win the tournament, it can build up your confidence. But really, you need the consistency to make it work.