|Posted on January 22, 2016 at 5:55 AM|
Opposites attract: Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios playing for the Singapore Slammers in 2014Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios of the Singapore Slammers celebrate a point against Nenad Zimonjic and Marin Cilic of the UAE Royals during the Coca-Cola International Premier Tennis League at the Mall of Asia Arena on November 29, 2014 in Manila, Philippines.
From friends to foes for a night as former teammates Kyrgios and Berdych square off
January 21, 2016
By Jon Tuxworth | Sports reporter at The Canberra Times
Not long ago Nick Kyrgios and Tomas Berdych were Singapore Slammers teammates, hamming it up and having a laugh in the International Premier Tennis League.
Although it's just exhibition tennis, former Slammers coach Josh Eagles believes the time Kyrgios spent playing with and against Kyrgios in Asia will ease his nerves before Friday night's Australian Open third-round blockbuster.
Their friendship will be put aside for a couple of hours and should Kyrgios prevail it will keep alive the prospect of playing childhood hero Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.
While they both boast huge strike power, Eagle said Kyrgios and Berdych are polar opposites off the court.
Like Kyrgios, the sixth seed Berdych is yet to drop a set at Melbourne and they are yet to play each other in an official match.
But Eagle said the time spent with Berdych will give Kyrgios an idea of what to expect from the big-hitting Czech.
"They played against each other in Tokyo last year [after Berdych switched to UAE Royals] and Nick won that one, and played very well," Eagle said.
"We shouldn't read too much into it, it's one-set exhibition tennis, but the one positive thing for Nick is he will be familiar with Berdych and what he's going to get.
"Sometimes when you play a top-10 player you don't know what's going to come at you, but he spent three weeks with Berdych and is comfortable with his ball striking and what to expect out there.
"It's not easy to beat a top-10 player in grand slam tennis but the way Nick's going he's confident and will have self-belief he can win."
Eagle said Berdych gave Kyrgios a first-hand look at how hard a player with a big body frame must work to be ready for the physical demands of five-set tennis.
"Their personalities couldn't be any further apart, Tomas is a very quiet and reserved character," Eagle said.
"Tomas was an incredibly hard worker when he was in the Singapore team, the workload he put in was remarkable.
"He was training the house down and set a good example.
"I'm pretty sure Nick left the IPTL thinking that's the benchmark, and that's where I need to get to.
"In my opinion he's done that, it's very noticeable his work rate off the court and it's showing in matches, he's moving a lot better."
Kyrgios' trainer Matt James reiterated that opinion in January last year.
"He was with Berdych for two weeks, same hotel, same gym, same recovery sessions," James said.
"To see how tough he trains, doing all the little things, it really opened Nick's eyes.
"He was really open and showed Nick what it takes to be a top tennis player."
Given Kyrgios and Berdych are big servers, Eagle says it will be vital for Kyrgios to capitalise on any rare chance he gets to break serve.
"I think it will come down to return of serve and who will take advantage of the rare opportunities when they present themselves," Eagle said.
"It's probably going to be a long one, I wouldn't be surprised if it goes the distance because they've both got such firepower.
"Nick's going to have to ride the ups and downs and hang in there for long periods, if he's strong mentally I think he's a big chance.
"The pressure is all on Berdych, he's the one expected to win and he's obviously well aware of Nick and what he's capable of."