|Posted on November 16, 2011 at 11:10 PM|
Tomas Berdych has been one of the most consistent players on tour this year, reaching the quarter-finals or better 15 times.
by Dominic Bliss | 16.11.2011
Czech No. 1 Tomas Berdych may be a quiet character off the court, but when he’s on it, it’s all guns blazing.
Tomas Berdych's abiding memory from competing at The O2 last year is the awesome atmosphere created by the spectators. What he admired most, he says, was the contrast between the thundering cheers at the end of each point, and the total silence while play was in progress.
“The crowd in London is definitely one of the best for tennis,” he says. “This huge indoor arena with so many people. The entertainment. It’s more like you’re going to the theatre than just watching tennis. That’s what we need.”
Appearing in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the second year running, the Czech No. 1 has been extremely consistent all year, a crucial factor in his qualification. He may not have had his hands on much silverware this season, but his consistency has been exemplary: he reached the quarter-finals or beyond at 15 of the 22 tournaments he has appeared in. And don’t forget last year when he completed a stunning run to the singles final at Wimbledon. That’s proof that he responds well to the support of London spectators.
“It’s more like you’re going to the theatre than just watching tennis”
Despite this success, and a permanent presence within the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings since July last year, Tomas isn’t one of those players who constantly gets pestered by fans in the street. In fact, outside of the Czech Republic, he is so little known that he can often pass unnoticed.
“I’m quite happy with that,” he says, wary of the attention that the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer receive. “I would definitely not want what they go through. If you have 16 Grand Slams under your belt, the popularity is much, much higher.”
Even back in his native Czech Republic, Tomas says the fans give him the space he needs. Although he now lives in Monte-Carlo, his home is a small town in the Czech Republic. “The people know that this guy has been here since he was 12 years old,” Tomas says of himself. “And that he’s now pretty much the same as he was before. I have an easy time with that. In the small city everybody knows me pretty well. I’m not unique to them. That’s a good thing.”
In the past critics have suggested Tomas lacks stage presence on the tennis court, and that this might affect his ability to win key matches. The player himself admits to shyness but insists it in no way affects his performance. “I’m this shy kind of person off the court,” he explains. “But on the court it’s different because you have to forget everything else, concentrate and fight for every point.”
As a child, Tomas left Valasske Mezirici and moved with his family 40 miles west to Prostejov. Here, the young player was able to train at the famous Tennis Club Prostejov, with its 21 clay and three indoor carpet courts. Other Czech greats such as Jiri Novak, Radek Stepanek and Jan Hajek trained alongside him.
At first his parents (father Martin was a train engineer, mother Hana a doctor) weren’t keen on him becoming a professional sportsman. “My father didn’t have the thought of making me a professional, but he really liked the sport and took me almost every day to the courts,” Tomas recalls. “I still needed to do all my school work, but my mother would joke that there was no way I would be a doctor and do all that study needed. When I was 10 she said in a funny way: ‘Do whatever you want in life, but don’t try to be a doctor.’ That's why I started to be a tennis player.”
His parents later moved back to Valasske Mezirici, while Tomas, like many other top pros, eventually ended up in Monte-Carlo.
“I’m this shy kind of person off the court, but on the court it’s different because you have to forget everything else”
Off court he very much keeps to himself. He admits he’s not the most sociable of players on the ATP World Tour. “On the tour I have no real friends,” he told Smash magazine. “If I hang around with other players it’s my fellow countrymen. My true friends are back home in the Czech Republic. They really support me.”
Tomas’s favourite sport outside of tennis is ice hockey, and he closely follows the fortunes of American NHL team the Detroit Red Wings. “In the Czech Republic ice hockey is a national sport,” he says. “We have many good players who play in the American NHL. I know some of the Czech players personally. They are tennis fans and have played tennis with me.”
Tomas is also something of a film buff, especially the fantasy genre. “Most of all I like the Lord of the Rings films,” he says. “They are unbelievably good. I can watch them over and over again.”
All that fighting, it seems, has taught him how to win his on-court battles.