|Posted on September 24, 2016 at 11:30 PM|
Tomas Berdych continues his return to the tour after appendicitis as he attempts to defend his title at the Shenzhen Open.
The Best of the Rest
By James Pham
Last year’s Shenzhen Open winner Tomas Berdych may have been born in the wrong era.
Having made the finals of Wimbledon in 2010 beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic before falling to Rafael Nadal at the final stage and the semis of every other Grand Slam at least once, Berdych is widely regarded as the best current player to have never won a Grand Slam. However, despite playing in an era where not just one, but three phenomenal players have solid claims to being the Greatest of All Time, Czech Tomas Berdych isn’t willing to concede defeat just yet.
A permanent fixture in the Top 10 since July 2010, the current world #8 still has his sights set on that elusive title of Grand Slam Champion. “I think I’m just trying to do all that I possibly can,” said Berdych at last year’s Shenzhen Open. “I wish that I met a person that he would say, ‘You do this, this, this, and you can get there.’ I think there is no one like that; it doesn’t really exist. It’s always behind the hard work, self-belief, and I think that’s it. That’s all that you can do for it, and if it happens, it happens. If not, they are just better. But we’re all trying to go the same way and the numbers just say it right. There will never be two number one players in the world. Only the best can be there.”
Playing tennis since the age of 5, Berdych’s rise to the top of the game has been one based on consistency. As a junior, Berdych reached number 6 in the world (and No. 2 in doubles), collecting the 2001 US Open Boys’ Doubles along the way. Since turning professional in 2002, Berdych has been to 29 ATP finals, winning 12 titles on hard courts, clay courts, grass and indoor carpet (including his biggest to date, the 2005 Paris Masters) as well as leading the Czech Republic to two Davis Cup titles in 2012 and 2013.
At 1.96m and 91kg, Berdych has some of the cleanest, flattest and hardest ball striking in the game instead, capable of beating any player on any given day with wins over Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, and Novak Djokovic to prove it. However, instead of living in “should of, would of, could of”, Berdych has embraced playing in one of the most exciting, if not frustrating, periods in tennis history. “The challenges that these guys pose makes you a better player as well, so I’m not complaining. It’s a great experience and I can compete. I’ve beaten all of them at least once, so I have no regrets about it. It’s just a slightly, let’s say tougher challenge [laughs]. But that’s part of the sport.”
“Maybe for a few weeks it could happen that, in another era, I could have been [number 1],” he adds. “But I can compete with them and be part of this tennis history. And now there is more of a chance,” referring to the rare Grand Slam wins of Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka breaking up the stranglehold the tennis’ Top 4 have had on the game, claiming 62 of the last 67 Masters series titles and 45 of the last 51 Grand Slam titles. “This is why I don’t feel tired after [so long on tour]. I have a new impulse and I’m very close. I have extra energy to work harder and get higher because I know it also took Andy [Murray] a long time to win his first slam.”
In a game where the tiniest of margins decides a winner and a loser, Berdych is committed to being the best he can be including adding a fitness coach, a mental coach and a nutritionist to his team. After a disappointing start to 2016 highlighted by a double bagel loss to David Goffin, Berdych ended a coaching relationship with Andy Murray’s ex-hitting partner Dani Vallverdu, saying: “I am not a player at the beginning of my career, so I had to act quickly when I felt like making a change”. Just before the Cincinnati Masters this summer, he joined the “super coach” movement and took on former World No. 2 and 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic. “I feel that Goran, with his playing and coaching experience, as well as his energy, is a perfect addition to the team. [I’m] feeling excited about new challenges,” said Berdych.
While Berdych is all business on court, off court, it’s another story. His dry, cheesy but lovable wit has endeared him with fans on social media where he has 292,000 Twitter followers, 284,000 on Instagram and 175,000 on Facebook where he often posts pics of him and model wife, Ester Satorova, enjoying life on and off the tour in some of the most exotic destinations in the world. Berdych’s past success in China, having won the China Open and Shenzhen Open, means he’s a crowd favorite in person as well as on Weibo. “I think it’s a good way to bring some insight besides just being on the tennis court that the fans can see and follow,” said Berdych at last year’s Shenzhen Open. “Trying to keep it entertaining all the time is a bit of a challenge but I like trying to bring my fans something extra as well as on the tennis courts. I don’t know if it makes me a more popular player or not… but I think that it’s a different way how you can express yourself because most of the time what people can see is you just being on the tennis court and you can’t really show something else than being really focused and really trying to play because tennis is trying to win every point. In the end, this could be quite boring for spectators, so this is a good way to show something else—what you like to do, how’s your personality.”
At this time last year, Berdych arrived at the Shenzhen Open without a title in 2015. Winning in Shenzhen without dropping a set all tournament kick-started his fall with a second title coming just a few weeks later in Stockholm. With his best result of 2016 a Wimbledon semi-final finish, Berdych finds himself in a similar position this year, looking to make his first final and take home his first title of the year. Will he find magic again in Shenzhen?
Source: Official website Shenzhen