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Czech it out: Tomas Berdych on the rise

Tomas Berdych Wimbledon 2010

Czech it out: Tomas Berdych on the rise

July 1, 2010

By Douglas Robson, Special for USA TODAY

WIMBLEDON, England — Tomas Berdych's conversion from mentally suspect underachiever to slugging major contender came in the sixth game of the fourth set against Roger Federer in Wednesday's Wimbledon quarterfinals.

After popping consecutive double faults to go down 40-0, Berdych did not panic. He did not overhit. He did not, so to speak, Czech out, even though he was in Federer's de facto backyard on Centre Court.

"I just was trying to stay mentally in that situation," Berdych said.

The 24-year-old nailed a service winner, crushed a forehand down the line and stretched down and feathered an angle backhand volley winner off Federer's low-flying backhand passing shot to save three break points.

In the next game, Berdych broke the top-seeded Swiss and then fought off a break point while serving for the match to secure the biggest win of his career, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
"If I can just go through my career, it was so far the toughest game to serve and close out the match," said No. 12 seed Berdych, who will face Novak Djokovic on Friday in his first Wimbledon semifinal.

Some might say it's about time.

Since reaching the fourth round of the 2004 U.S. Open as an 18-year-old, the explosive, 6-5 Berdych has been on most observers' short lists of big talents.
"He's always had so much ability," ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez said.

But "Big Berd" has been slow to realize his potential — something that apparently runs in the psyche of a country with a rich tradition of champions from Martina Navratilova to Jan Kodes, the nation's only male Wimbledon winner in the Open era.

"In the Czech mentality, we need a little more time to be good," said Berdych's coach, Tomas Krupa.

Power has never been the problem. Berdych proved so against Federer, pummeling the 16-time major winner with serves consistently above 130 mph and untouchable forehands that rocketed from his racket.

Under Krupa for the last 18 months, Berdych has calmed down mentally and learned to use his formidable weapons more judiciously.

"Now it's more comfortable in his head," said Krupa, a former pro and fellow Czech.

Berdych, who dates WTA player Lucie Safarova and follows hockey and soccer passionately, started to come into his own this spring in the USA.

At Miami on hardcourts, he reached the final by knocking off three top-10 players in a row, including Federer, which ended an eight-match losing streak to the Swiss.

The momentum carried onto clay, not his best surface, where Berdych advanced to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the French Open, losing in five sets to Robin Soderling.

"It's not only like about the last two weeks," Berdych says of his transformation. "You get more and more experience. I get a little bit older … more focused, mentally stronger than before. They are all together like in one pack."

Federer certainly noticed.

"I think he was a bit more consistent than in the past," he said.

Krupa, primarily a doubles player, also has been working with Berdych on his net game.

After his brilliant backhand volley to save break point against Federer, Krupa said Berdych gestured toward him in the players' box.

"He knows that was the work we were doing together," Krupa said with a smile.

Against No. 3 seed Djokovic, Berdych will have to impose his game and serve consistently as he did against Federer.

The Serb, who beat quarterfinals opponent Yen-Hsun Lu 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, will try to lure Berdych into rallies and is more dangerous from the backhand side than Federer.

Berdych is 0-2 against Djokovic but is hungry to go further after almost tasting the final weekend in Paris.

"But still there is one match to be better feelings than this one," he said.