Welcome to another LIVE edition of How the Match Was Won! Today we have the sixth grudge match of the year between Tomas Berdych and Nicolás Almagro, with the Czech No.1 leading Almagro 4-1 in the year’s matches (the overall head-to-head favors Berdych 8-3).
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For those of you who don’t remember, Berdych and Almagro played a cracking four-setter in Australia that included three tiebreakers (all won by Berdych). However, that match is more famous for having a no-handshake-at-net controversy, since the Czech inexplicably took offense at Almagro targeting his body with a passing shot near the end of the match.
Almagro destroyed Berdych 4 and 0 at Indian Wells a couple of months later, but then Berdych rattled off 3 straight wins over the Spaniard, with one of those being played on Almagro’s beloved clay. Berdych also managed some trash-talk about Almagro, calling him the weak link of the Spanish team.
So, how do these two match up against each other? Here’s a look at a few key battlegrounds where the fate of the match will ultimately be decided:
The Czechs laid out an extremely fast indoor surface for this tie, hoping to help Berdych and Stepanek conserve energy by keeping the points short and making it easier for them to get a lot of free points on serve. A fast surface like this takes the time away from someone with long swings, and makes it more difficult to defend the kind of first-strike tennis the Czechs will be looking to play. Of course, the Czechs also wanted to take the Spaniards out of their comfort zone, something that backfired on Argentina four years ago.
However, the problem for the Czechs is that Berdych has had a lot of success with surfaces that are a little slower, giving him more time to defend and set up for his shots. Berdych doesn’t really play first-strike tennis, so it’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to the fast, low bouncing surface.
Still, the biggest question mark of this tie is how Almagro handles this surface. Throughout his life, Almagro has approached matches on this surface with very little confidence, and that has translated into a 22 and 24 career record indoors. Almagro likes to drop back behind the baseline and take the ball late, which is just not an option on this surface. The man from Murcia will also have less time to set up for his shots, particularly if Berdych is using that famous easy power of his.
The Return of Serve
This will be the key for both guys, since neither is known for being a great returner, and the surface makes it difficult to handle big serves, which both Almagro and Berdych possess (Almagro is ranks 11th in service games won, Berdych is 7th – pretty close to where both players sit in the ATP rankings).
In terms of return games won, Almagro is ranks way below his singles ranking, coming in at 37 this year. That’s a drop of 26 spots. Berdych comes in at 18, with a drop of 12 spots as compared to his ranking. Whoever manages to get any semblance of pressure on the other’s serve will likely dictate the outcome of this match.
Both Almagro and Berdych have the ability to go big with their forehands, but both can go through lapses on that side that end up costing them entire games and sometimes sets. Whoever can avoid those pitfalls and use his forehand to finish points consistently will definitely have an edge in this match.
I think this match will be decided by a few points here in there. In Australia, Berdych was rock-solid in the three breakers he won, and he’s won two more since then during this year’s encounters with Almagro. The Spaniard is historically a mediocre-at-best tiebreak player (throwing out the window the notion that the breaker favors the big server), so that’s not exactly a surprising development. However, if Almagro manages to hold his nerver in a decider today, that could be huge for Spain’s chances to win their sixth Davis Cup.
Finally, I think Almagro will benefit from having Corretja in his ear all match. Someone who is known for self-combusting can surely gain from hearing encouraging words from the man who has put so much trust in him today. I’m sure Corretja tried to emphasize to Almagro that while he believes there’s a chance for a win, the main objective is to make Berdych work for every single point out there, since the big Czech is slated to play the doubles rubber and then face Ferrer in the biggest match of the tie.
If you want to compare another side of these two players, look no further than to the Social Media Studies that came out earlier in the week: Berdych’s masterful use of Facebook and Almagro’s prolific tweeting.
The match-call will begin as soon as the gentlemen come on court!
A propos of nothing:
I just got crapped on by a pigeon. Does that mean there’s good luck coming my way?
— Anne Keothavong (@annekeothavong) November 16, 2012
Is that an omen for any of these gentlemen?
Carlos Ramos is on the chair, and Almagro is out there wearing a truly horrific Reebok shirt. I wish I could screencap it for you. Although it might be for the best.
It’s interesting that the Czech Captain is non other than Jaroslav Navratil, also known as Berdych’s old coach. Will the Facebook maestro benefit from the familiarity, or will they have a couple of awkward moments?
Berdych will start serving.
0-0: A Berdych UFE after a rather tentative exchange starts the match. Almagro is standing behind the baseline, but moving forward when he hits the ball. 0-15. Then they trade FHs, and Almagro gets pushed much further than he’d like. 15-all. 30-15 after a good Berdych volley after a very poor Almagro pass. Ace out wide, and it’s 40-15. Service winner, and it’s a hold.
Almagro’s shoes are so horrific. Fluorescent pink monstrosities. You might thank me for not screencapping them.
1-0: Almagro starts his service game with a nice ace up the T. Protecting his serve is absolutely crucial. A BH UFE, and it’s 15-all. Another big serve up the T, and it’s 30-15. Short return gets put away with Almagro’s BH. 40-15. A prettier BH putaway seals the game for the Spaniard.
Almagro’s BH might be the key here – he needs to be able to attack with it, and set up his FH for easier looks. Also, it’s such a pretty shot. Might be my favorite on tour.
1-1: Almagro sends a FH wildly long. 15-0. Berdych then returns the favor with a wide FH UFE. SW, 30-15. Almagro BH UFE, 40-15. More of the same, and Berdych holds.
Changing the direction of the ball on this surface is tricky – there’s less time to get the the footwork and timing right. Also, Gimelstob is right in saying that Almagro’s pretty backhand suffers the most from this quick surface. There’s very little time for Almagro to unload on it, and he can’t afford to take it late.
2-1: Almagro starts with a double-fault. Not the greatest way to start a service game. 2nd serve again, but Berdych sends the return long. 15-all. Short return, and Almagro puts it away with his FH. Nice speed getting to the ball. 30-15. Almagro with a couple of great FHs DTL, forces Berdych’s error. 40-15. Berdych with a fantastic FH DTL winner of his own. Almagro had been on the offensive until then. 40-30. Ace out wide, and the Master Twitterer holds.
Good point made by the Tennis Channel guy: Berdych would’ve loved to have played first today, and ride his press conference bravado. But since Ferrer dismissed Stepanek rather easily, now Berdych feels the pressure to level the tie ahead of the doubles.
2-2: 15-0 after a good Berdych serve. Almagro botches a short FH putaway. Bad UFE – 30-0. Service winner, 40-0. We hear that neither player has lost a point played on their first serve. Interesting. Almagro with a beauty of a BH DTL return winner off a Berdych 2nd serve. 40-15. Berdych pounces on a short return, forces the error. Holds rather comfortably.
Again, nobody has lost a single point on their first serve. That 1st serve percentage ha become a key stat to watch. Right now, Berdych is at 53%, and Almagro is at a worrying 45%. That has to go up for Almagro. In a hurry.
3-2: 15-0, but the “Tennis” Channel didn’t show it. I guess it was a good serve. Almagro goes for a big BH CC, but nets it badly. 15-all. Berdych with a BH UFE, and it’s 30-15. Berdych corners Almagro on the FH side, but then fails to put away the FH DTL that was wide open for him. Nervous, Tomas? 40-15. Almagro puts a floating return away with his FH, holds without much trouble.
3-3: Berdych with a FH UFE that goes long, and compounds the error by challenging the call. 0-15. Service winner to Almagro’s FH, 15-all. Berdych hammers Almagro’s BH, forces the error. 30-15. Almagro goes for a FH as soon as he has a good look at it, and forces the error. 30-all. Half-chance for Spain here? Nope – huge serve up the T by Berdych. 40-30. Ball boys nearly collide betwen serves. Berdych out-maneuvers Almagro, who ends up slapping a FH in desperation. That was a more complicated hold for Berdych.
Berdych: “I don’t know from where is that coming. He is definitely not. I would never say this about a player that has been in the top 10.”
— Amy Fetherolf (@AmyFetherolf) November 16, 2012
Berdych back-tracking from his “weak link” comments.
4-3: Almagro decides to trade CC FHs with Berdych, ends up making the error. Not the greatest play there. 0-15. 2nd serve. Almagro falls way behind the baseline, and Berdych ends up forcing the error with a delicate DTL FH slice. 0-30. 2nd serve yet again, but Berdych bails out Almagro with a BH return into the net. 2nd serve again. Berdych seems to have Almagro on a string, but then bails the Spaniard out again, framing a FH in the middle of the rally. Huge Almagro roar. 30-all. 2nd serve again, gets pummeled by a Berdych BH DTL return, and it’s BP. No first serves at all in this game. Almagro takes a little bit of pace off the 1st serve, gets it in, forces a short reply, but hits the CC approach FH straight at Berdych, who hits a great passing shot. The Czechs with the break.
Almagro is at 41% 1st serves. That really won’t cut it.
5-3: Service winner to Almagro’s BH. 15-0. Service winner to Almagro’s FH. 30-0. Almagro with a beauty of a flick CC BH pass. That came out of nowhere, really. Seemed like the point was lost. 30-15. Almagro with a FH UFE, trying to go to Berdych’s BH corner. 40-15, double set point. Almagro now with a 1st serve FH CC return winner. Impressive…but maybe a little too late. 40-30. Ace up the T, and the set is over.
This is the worst case scenario for Spain: Berdych barely spent any energy there, and Almagro didn’t come close to generating a break point of any sort, and his 1st serve percentage was very poor.
First set stats:
0-0: Two service winners, and Almagro is up 30-0. A nice aggressive inside-out FH, and it’s 40-0. Almagro sends a FH long, 40-15, but holds after another service winner.
That was huge for Almagro. You really don’t want to go down a set and a break this early. Also encouraging for Almagro: he made 4 out of 5 1st serves in that first game.
1-0: Almagro pummels another inside-out FH, 0-15. Now Berdych returns the favor with a pretty inside-out FH winner. 15-all. Service winner to Almagro’s FH, 30-15. A short return off a 1st serve is put away by Berdych, 40-15. Almagro nets a BH after a short exchange, and Berdych holds
I just looked it up: Almagro ranks 44th in 2012 in 1st serve return points won. That’s pretty awful. Is 18th in 2nd serve return points won. Still behind his ranking.
1-1: Almagro unleashes an inside-in FH DTL, and it’s 15-0. Ace, 30-0. Service winner, 40-0. Almagro now wildly mistimes a FH, and it’s 40-15. Berdych leaves a return short, and Almagro puts away the gift with his backhand. Easy hold.
Almagro is now serving 90% 1st serves. 9 out of 10 so far. Now THAT’S a recipe for success.
2-1: Berdych pushes Almagro back, then comes forward to put away a simple volley. Nice, sound tennis. 15-0. Almagro with a BH UFE, and it’s 30-0. Almagro then goes for a big BH return, forces the error. 30-15. Almagro has yet to win more than 2 points on any Berdych return game. 2nd serve. Almagro with a BEAUTY of a BH DTL winner for 30-all. That was gorgeous. Berdych comes up huge with an ace up the T. Almagro did not see that coming. 40-30. Almost nails another one up the T, but it was called out. Berdych puts away a tough overhead, which is challenged by Almagro. It was well in. Hold for the Czechs.
Almagro seems to be hitting the ball with a little more conviction now, but he’s still unable to even force a deuce on Berdych’s service games.
2-2: Some pretty and violent BHs later, Almagro is up 15-0. Earlier in the point, he defended a very good BH DTL by Berdych. Almagro puts away a short return, and it’s 30-0. Ace up the T, and it’s 40-0. A nice Almagro volley ends the game.
Very comfortable holds for Almagro so far – nice work by Corretja to get the combustible Spaniard to relax after that first set.
So far, this is old-school, short-point tennis. Neither guy defends particularly well, and neither is a particularly good returner, either. We’re almost at the set and a half mark, and we haven’t hit the hour mark yet.
3-2: Almagro with a great FH CC pass for a rare 0-15 lead. Berdych pushes him back with his easy power, and it’s 15-all in a hurry. Almagro gets a chance to dictate with his BH, forcing Berdych to defend, and finally forces the error. 15-30. Good body language from the Nutella fan. 2nd serve. Almagro gets in a dangerous CC FH rally, but brings Berdych in, and passes him again with his FH CC. Incredible. 15-40, first BPs for Almagro in this whole match. Fantastic wide serve by Berdych from the deuce court. That would’ve been hard for any returner to get back. 30-40. Almagro breaks! With a beauty of an angled FH, and then a putaway CC BH
The tide has turned!
4-2: Incredible ace out wide by Almagro, 15-0. Seventh ace of the match for him. Then gets lucky with a framed FH that somehow lands in, but then takes no prisoners with a violent inside-out FH. Almagro flying now. 30-0. The Spanish crowd has rallied behind him, too. So loud. A great Berdych volley makes it 30-15. He really dug that from the ground. Ace up the middle, and it’s 40-15. That’s number 8, and it effectively doubles Berdych’s total of 4. Almagro goes for a crazy CC FH winner when fully out-stretched, and fails badly. 40-30. His kingdom for a 1st serve, no? Incredible serve out wide, and Almagro holds.
Nadal approves of Ferrer’s win earlier:
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) November 16, 2012
5-2: Berdych puts away a short reply, 15-0. Almagro with a great return that clips the line, and it’s 15-all. 2nd serve. Carlos Ramos overrules an Almagro FH that was called in, but the Portuguese umpire was right – ball was out. 30-15. Spain only has 1 challenge remaining. 2nd serve again. Berdych barely misses a FH DTL passing shot, and it’s 30-all. 2nd serve. Almagro with a supremely lucky framed FH return sets up a set point. That was nuts. Almagro apologizes. Almagro then goes for a big BH CC, sends it long. Set point fended off. Service winner to Almagro’s BH, and it’s game point for Berdych. Service winner to Almagro’s FH, and Almagro will serve for the set.
5-3: Almagro serving at 85% 1st serves. Can he come up with some big ones now? Bad Berdych FH UFE to start. 15-0. Huge bomb out wide now, 30-0. 2nd serve. Another bad FH UFE by Berdych, and it’s triple set point. 2nd serve, an Almagro goes for it. A little later, another Berdych FH UFE ends the set.
I give that set to Corretja. Kind of like in soccer, when a team comes back revitalized after a tough first half. Obviosly the key was getting that 1st serve % up.
Second set stats:
0-0: Fantastic return by Almagro, 0-15. Ace up the T, 15-all. Almagro dictates with his BH, hits a FH inside in, forces the error. 15-30. Almagro is taking the ball earlier, stepping into the court. Clutch service winner out wide, 30-all. Almagro with a great FH return off a very decent wide serve, and then forces another Berdych FH UFE. 30-40, BP. 2nd serve. Almagro goes for a big CC BH after a long rally, and the break point is averted when it goes wide. It was challenged to no avail. Almagro gets pushed back, and then sends a BH DTL long. AD-Berdych. The Czechs hold after Berdych gets a nice counter-dropper to land barely in – but not quite! Controversy ensues as Carlos Ramos wants the point to be re-played. The Czechs argue that Almagro caught the ball with his hand, instead of getting his racquet on it. Crowd goes nuts. I mean, I guess they have a point, but Almagro’s reaction was definitely caused by the out call. Interesting. Service winner up the T, and Berdych holds. Ball don’t lie, as Rasheed Wallace says.
That could end up being a huge game – Almagro definitely had a shot for the break, and barely missed a CC BH. Now the crowd is fully into it after the umpire controversy on game point.
1-0: Almagro nets a BH DTL after a previous shot was called in but the crowd and Berdych claimed it was out. Now Berdych pummels a return, and it’s 0-30. The crowd cheered a service fault for the first time. 2nd serve, a long rally ensues, and Almagro ends up sending a FH wide 0-40. The crowd now a factor, which wasn’t the case earlier. 2nd serve. Berdych bails Almagro out with a bad BH UFE, and it’ 15-40. Another bad BH UFE from Berdych, and it’s 30-40. 2nd serve. Someone yells during Almagro’s toss, and the Spaniard double-faults. Break or the Czechs.
The crowd definitely got the break for Berdych there. Someone clearly yelled out during Almagro’s toss. It’s getting rowdy in Prague. Still, this was to be expected: this is a Davis Cup final after all. Almagro facing a huge hurdle now.
2-0: Big serve by Berdych to start, and then some nice volleys for 30-0. The crowd is loving this. Service winner to Almagro’s BH, 40-0. Rinse and repeat, and the break is consolidated.
Momentum seems to be completely on the side of the home team now. Berdych is serving better – 75% 1st serves to Almagro’s 29%. It shows so far.
3-0: Almagro races to a 40-love lead after an ace out wide and a great angled FH. Puts away a short return, and that’s a great hold to stop the bleeding. The Spanish crowd erupts.
3-1: Berdych goes out wide with his serve, and puts away the DTL FH. 15-0. Service winner to Almagro’s FH, 30-0. Almagro with a fantastic inside-out BH return winner. A crazy shot. 30-15. Almagro barely misses a BH return, and it’s 40-15. Another great Almagro return from the deuce court, this time with the FH, and it’s 40-30. 2nd serve. Almagro gets a chance to dictate, and blasts a CC BH winner to set up the first deuce of the match on Berdych’s serve. However, the Czech no.1 responds with a huge ace up the T. That was monstrous. And opportune. 2nd serve now. Almagro gets a shot at dictating with his FH, but sends an inside-in FH into the net. A missed opportunity, but signals his intent to stay in the set.
Meanwhile, the World Number One is in…Brazil?
— Charlotte Ezdra (@Carla0786) November 16, 2012
Also, a take on what the Spaniards think of the court laid out by the Czechs:
Spanish Tennis Federation coach Xisco claims Davis Cup final court is like an “an ice rink”: ow.ly/fm8qe
— TENNIS.com (@tennis) November 16, 2012
4-1: Almagro starts with a service winner, but then leaves a dropper way short. 15-all. He composes himself immediately, dictating with his inside-out FH, and draws the error when he goes inside-in. 30-15. Wrong-foots Berdych and it’s 40-15. Berdych hands the hold with a BH DTL that goes long.
It really seems like Almagro is getting a lot of success when he dictates with his FH. He takes it earlier than his BH, so it really succeeds at pushing Berdych back. Also, it’s easier for him to go DTL with it than with his BH.
4-2: Almagro and Berdych play a great battle of a point, and it ends on a funny note when Berdych badly frames a FH. Some big-hitting from both. Almagro then sets up a BH DTL perfectly, but nets it. 15-all. A CC FH exchange ends when Almagro, pushed back, nets a DTL attempt. 30-15. 2nd serve. Almagro with a fantastic BH DTL return. He’s reading Berdych’s serve a lot better, and getting some great pace behind more returns. 30-all. Clutch serving by Berdych, who pulls out the slider out wide from the deuce court. That was a great one. 40-30. 2nd serve. Almagro with another great return: forehand inside-in DTL for a clean winner. Deuce. Almagro challenges another fantastic slider by Berdych, and he’s wrong. AD-Czech Republic. 2nd serve. Almagro sends a short reply, and Berdych doesn’t hesitate to punish it. Key hold.
5-2: A little confusion arises after the 1st point, but it ends as a service winner by Almagro. 2nd serve, service fault cheered by the crowd. Almagro is unfazed, as he blasts FHs that Berdych can’t handle. 30-0. Beauty of a CC BH winner by Almagro, and it’s 40-0. 2nd serve. Double-fault, as Almagro’s serve clips the letcord. But Almagro holds after punishing a short return.
Can Berdych serve this one out? Almagro has been in more and more of his service games in this set. Huge moment for the Czech.
5-3: 2nd serve. Almagro got a chance to dictate with his FH, but Berdych finds a way to turn the tables with his BH, forcing Almagro’s error. 15-0. Wild FH UFE by Almagro, and it’s 30-0. A bad BH CC UFE by Almagro, after he had out-maneuvered Berdych out of the point, and it’s triple set point. Almagro goes on the offensive with his FH, but gives Berdych a look at a pass, and can’t handle it with his BH volley. Set to the Czechs.
That was a tough set to lose for Spain. Almagro had an early break point that went begging after he missed a BH CC, and then gave away the break on a double-fault when he couldn’t handle the crowd noise during the point.
Still, the larger objective here is to keep Berdych out there, so it’s all about finding a way to send this match to a fifth set.
3rd set Stats:
Talk about the best possible start for the Czechs. Berdych in pole position to extend his perfect 8-0 Davis Cup record this year. Has to be deflating for Almagro.
0-1: Berdych blasts away to a 30-0 lead, and it’s 40-0 after Almagro sends a FH well long. He had hit a good return just before that. Almagro comes in after a bad approach shot, and promptly nets the volley. Easy hold for Berdych.
Almagro has to think that this is only one break, and he’s serving first. He has to keep Berdych out there.
0-2: A service winner starts things off for Almagro, and a big CC FH makes it 30-0. An ace, and it’s 40-0. An inside-out FH forces Berdych’s error, and it’s a big hold for Spain.
1-2: Two big serves, and Berdych is up 30-0. Some big FHs later, and it’s 40-0. A davastating 1-2 punch later, and Berdych holds after about 2 seconds.
1-3: Almagro nets a regulation FH, and it’s 0-15. 5th straight point for Berdych. 6th, after Almagro nets another FH. 0-30. Almagro stops the bleeding with a good inside-out FH, and it’s 15-30. Big service winner, 30-all. Berdych isn’t missing those FHs from the middle of the court anymore, and makes Almagro pay for leaving one short. 30-40. 2nd serve. Berdych misses a HUGE opportunity for the double break when he meekly nets a BH UFE. Deuce. Service winner up the T, and it’s AD-Spain. Berdych goes for the inside-out FH return winner, misses badly.
Nike Tennis decides to hype up the match by showcasing Berdych…and Marc López. Somehow I don’t think Berdych will be pleased about that.
Spain is back in this match! Out of nowhere! Full compliments to Corretja, who’s done a great job of keeping Almagro in this match.
3-3: Berdych starts Almagro’s service game with an incredible inside-out BH return winner. Then we get the point of the match: Almagro does some great defending, but Berdych hits a sweet drop-volley winner to go up 0-30. 2nd serve. Berdych with a cheap FH UFE up the middle. Rally shot, absolutely. 15-30. Getting nervy in Prague. 2nd serve again. Another cheap Berdych error, this time with a BH up the middle. 30-all. Berdych with another BH error, this one slighly forced by a good Almagro FH DTL. 40-30. 2nd serve. Berdych donates the game with a horrible BH return that doesn’t even come close to the doubles alley.
What a missed opportunity for Berdych – he was up 0-30 and then completely crumbled.
Judy Murray chimes in:
Happy birthday Nico. Love from The Berd.
— judy murray (@judmoo) November 16, 2012
4-3: Huge serve out wide by Berdych, 15-0. Almagro barely misses a BH DTL that was going to be a winner (by an inch), and it’s 30-0. Late call on a Berdych swinging volley. It was in – Almagro demands to replay the point, and seems generally annoyed at Ramos. Yep, the point will be replayed, since I think Almagro hit the ball back in the court after the bad call. 2nd serve. A huge BH later, it’s 30-15. He pummeled that Berdych 2nd serve. Huge serve out wide by Berdych, and it’s 40-15. 2nd serve. Almagro absolutely unloads on a BH CC, then uses a nice angled FH to force Berdych’s error. That was pretty. 40-30. Very purposeful tennis from Berdych, who pushed Almagro way back and finished the point with a nice volley.
Almagro made a little bit of a stand there, but he really struggles to get back in points once he’s pushed back.
4-4: 2nd serve, but Almagro punishes a short reply with his FH. 15-0. Almagro gives Berdych a taste of his own medicine, and after pushing him back, he volleys hard straight at Berdych, who can’t handle it. An ace, and it’s 40-0. Second serve ace, and Almagro is up 5-4. Impressive fight from him.
To me, Almagro is VERY CLOSE to “mission accomplished”. He’s made life difficult to Berdych, who’s having to spend more time than he would like out there. And as I write this, there was a changeover BUMP between the two of them! Almagro was the instigator, definitely. Berdych tamely stood by and opened his arms, surprised by it.
5-4: The Almagro bump doesn’t have the desired effect: Berdych sends two bombs his way for a 30-0 lead. Make that 3. 40-0 in about a second. A huge FH later, and Berdych holds. The bump seems to have re-energized Berdych, somehow. You wouldn’t believe it from his reaction.
5-5: A Berdych BH UFE is matched by an Almagro FH UFE. 15-all. Almagro reacts with a great inside-out FH that stretches Berdych well wide. 30-15. 2nd serve. After a strong rally, Berdych sends a BH DTL slice wide. Hadn’t tried that shot all match. Getting tight, there? 40-15. Berdych can’t get Almagro’s 2nd serve back in play, and it’s a big hold for Spain.
Berdych seems to have come back to earth after his great service game from a little bit go. That BH DTL slice was a bizarre shot to try. Given how bad Almagro is at tiebreakers, though, I feel like the man from Murcia needs to make his move now.
6-5: A short return by Almagro gets punished DTL by Berdych. 15-0. 2nd serve. Almagro defends, and Berdych nets a short FH. Bad UFE. 15-all. Berdych has lost only 1 point on his 1st serve in this set…but has won only 3 on his 2nd serve. Great stat dropped by the Tennis Channel guy. Almagro gets a look at a 2nd serve, and sends his BH return long. A missed opportunity. 30-15. 2nd serve again. Almagro dominates with his FH, and sets up a great CC BH off a Berdych slice that is just too much for Berdych to handle. 30-all. CRUNCH TIME. 2nd serve yet again. Almagro nets a neutral rally FH. BAD UFE. 40-30. 2nd missed opportunity of the game. Almagro survives a 1st serve, but then nets a CC BH.
Almagro will serve first.
0-0: 2nd serve. Berdych gets a good return in play, but then pushes another one into the net. Bad UFE.
1-0, Almagro: Almagro with some BEAUTIFUL angled FHs! The last one is a clean winner.
2-0, Almagro: Almagro somehow gets a 1st serve back, and then Berdych’s FH gets called out. Berdych challenges, and he’s left disappointed.
3-0, Almagro: A meek Berdych BH after Almagro pummels CC BHs, and it’s looking great for the Murcia man.
4-0, Almagro: HUGE ace up the T. Almagro in DA ZONE.
5-0, Almagro: Service winner to Almagro’s FH. Berdych stops the bleeding.
5-1, Almagro: Rinse and repeat. Almagro was on that serve, but just couldn’t get it over the net.
5-2, Almagro: 2nd serve. Berdych takes over the point immediately, forcing Almagro to chase balls from way behind the baseline.
5-3, Almagro: 2nd serve. Just as I say “I don’t think Berych will miss anymore”, he sends a short BH way long. He was in complete control of the point. Triple set point for Spain.
6-3, Almagro: Almagro sets up an unloads on a BH DTL winner…and BARELY misses. Gimmelstob calls it a “good miss” and I agree.
6-4, Almagro: 2nd serve. Almagro almost wins the point on a great BH DTL, but Berdych somehow gets a great defensive lob back. Almagro then tries to go for an angled FH, but nets it. CRUNCH TIME FOR SPAIN.
6-5, Almagro: HUMONGOUS ACE OUT WIDE FROM THE AD COURT. THAT WAS SICK!!!!
Almagro takes it to a 5th! The man from Murcia comes up HUGE!
4th Set Stats:
Both Almagro and Berdych are undefeated in five-setters this year: Almagro is 4 and 0, and Berdych is 2 and 0.
Berdych will serve first in the deciding set:
0-0: 2nd serve, and Almagro sends a BH UFE into the net. 15-0. A FH UFE from Berdych levels the game, 15-all. Almagro then UNLOADS on a BH CC pass and Berdych almost loses his arm in the process. 15-30. Nice kicker out wide from Berdych, and it’s 30-all. Bomb up the T from Berdych, and it’s 40-30. A thumper of a FH CC winner by Almagro, who sends us to a first Deuce. Gimmelstob is questioning the late start time for today’s session, since it’s almost 11 pm in Prague. Almagro flying around, blasting FHs all over the place, ends with a great inside-out winner. Break point for Spain. Fantastic 2nd serve kicker from Berdych. Amazing serve. Almagro can’t get it in the vicinity of the court. That was HUGE. Deuce #2. Almagro then bails Berdych out, sending a BH DTL well long. AD-Czech Republic. 2nd serve. Almagro runs around his BH, and blasts a huge inside-out FH. He’s really putting the pressure on Berdych. Deuce #3. Now an INCREDIBLE BH passing shot by Almagro. That was not easy at all, but Berdych will regret having gone so obviously up the middle. BP for Spain. Berdych goes up the T, and Almagro nets the reply. Deuce #4. Another fantastic serve, this time into Almagro’s body. AD-Berdych. Incredible BH return by Almagro, forces the error. Deuce #5. Almagro gets another look at a BH pass, but frams it, leaving an easy volley for Berdych. AD-Berdych again. Almagro goes for a BH DTL, and he nets it. HUGE hold for Berdych.
Circle that last game. Berdych was under pressure, and his incredible variety with his serve bailed him out of those break points. Absolutely clutch form by Berdych.
1-0: Berdych had Almagro in no-man’s land, but bails him out with a FH UFE. 15-0. Almagro returns the favor, when he has a short FH to put away and sends it well wide. 15-all. Almagro pummels CC FHs, ends with a winner. 30-15. Berdych barely misses a FH DTL, and it’s 40-15. Berdych sends a CC FH long, and Spain holds.
Berdych is losing more and more of those CC FH exchanges. He also looks a little tired. Almagro seems ready to battle for quite a while yet.
1-1: Almagro nets a 2nd serve return. 15-0. Another missed return, 30-0. Make that 3. 40-0. 2nd serve. Fantastic CC BH return by Almagro, and it’s 40-15. Another BH missed return, and Berdych holds.
What’s the best possible balm for tired legs? An easy service game. Berdych is coming up huge so far.
2-1: Service winner, 15-0. 2nd serve. Double-fault, which is challenged. Turns out, Almagro was right. Ball caught the line. Still 15-0. Bomb up the T. Ball don’t lie. 30-0. Now a nice slider out wide. 40-0. After an inside-in FH draws Berdych’s error, Almagro holds at love.
2-2: 2nd serve. Almagro with some awesome BHs, and then an incredible FH DTL that wrong-foots Berdych completely. 0-15. Service winner to Almagro’s FH. 15-all. Huge bomb up the T, 30-15. Another big serve, this time out wide, sets up a simple FH, which is put away. 40-15. Rinse and repeat, and it’s a hold.
3-2: Almagro with a bad, tired looking FH UFE. 0-15. Big service winner up the T. 15-all. And now an ace up the T. That’s ace #18 for Almagro. 2nd serve. Double-fault, as the serve clips the letcord and lands out. 30-all. DF #4 for Almagro. HUGE POINT COMING UP. Big inside-out FH is what Almagro needed – forces Berdych’s error. 40-30. Almagro with a big serve out wide, but nets Berdych’s return. Deuce #1. First deuce on Almagro’s service games in a long time. A CC FH is called out, but is challenged. It’s out by half an inch. Maybe less. Break point for Berdych and the Czechs. ABSOLUTE BOMB OUT WIDE by Almagro. That was CLUTCH. Deuce #2. Awful UFE by Almagro after he gets a simple short FH to put away, and he short-arms it badly into the net. BP #2 for Berdych. Almagro serves quickly, fails. 2nd serve. Incredible BH DTL return by Berdych, forces the error. The Czechs are up a break!
That seemingly came out of nowhere – Almagro had been serving comfortably for quite some time, but some nervy errors coupled with a DF doomed him.
4-2: Almagro with an amazing CC FH winner to start the match. 0-15. Almagro donates the next point, however. It’s unclear if his BH was actually called out, or if it was the crowd who called it out. Regardless, he loses the point. 15-all. A lucky letcord gives Almagro another lead: 15-30. The letcords have been very soft today. Huge hitting from Berdych, who finishes with an inside-out FH. 30-all. Berdych now gives Spain a BP after a BH UFE. More twists and turns? Berdych sends a FH long, and Spain is back in it! Berduch challenges, but that was more than a few inches long.
Incredible effort by Almagro, helped by a few bad errors from Berdych. Still in the match. This is really a huge testament to the work Almagro has put in this year. There is no way in hell pre-2012 Almagro is this competitive on this surface before.
4-3: Big hitting from Berdych has him at 0-15, after Almagro seemingly twisted his ankle. But then the Spaniard wrong-foots Berdych and levels the game. Berdych goes on the offensive yet again, forces the error from Almagro. 15-30. And yet another string of fantastic inside-out FHs from Berdych forces a tame slice error from Almagro. Berdych is going for it – no doubts left in his game. Double Break Point. Beautiful ace out wide by Almagro. 30-40. 2nd serve. A lucky letcord saves the Spaniards yet again, after Almagro was teetering way behind the baseline. I’m guessing the letcords will be tightened for tomorrow. Deuce #1. A bomb up the T gets called in, but Berdych challenges. It was smack on the line. AD-Spain. Berdych brings us back to deuce after a great CC FH. This match is officially nuts. also, it’s almost midnight in Prague. The crowd calls an Almagro 2nd serve out, they keep playing, and Almagro nets a FH. Break Point again for the Czechs. Carlos Ramos warns the crowd not to call lines. An incredible CC BH by Berdych is called in, Almagro challenges, and it’s IN. Berdych breaks, and will serve for the match.
HUGE hitting by Berdych, and that CC BH was masterful. Amazing. In a related note, Berdych down during that last challenge. He’s completely gassed. Does he play tomorrow? He’s been out there for almost 4 hours today.
5-3: Incredible FH winner after a good return by Almagro has Berdych up 15-0. He then comes after a good approach, and it’s 30-0. Almagro gets a look at 2 passing shots, and puts the second one away. 30-15. Berdych goes up the T with a huge missile, and Almagro can’t get it back in play. Double match point, 40-15. 2nd serve. Almagro sends a 2nd serve return wide, and this huge match is over.
A bitter way to say Mission Accomplished for Almagro, and now comes a huge decision for Navratil, who has a very tired Tomas Berdych in his hands. Does Berdych play? You migth argue that the Czech Republic might be better served giving their top 2 singles players a day’s rest ahead of Sunday’s singles.
The above does not mean that Nicolás Almagro was at fault – he was unlucky to miss a BH CC early in the 3rd that would’ve given him a break advantage. He faught like a mad man, and reversed his bad tiebreak form to force a fifth. He pushed the Czech #1 to the brink, which was the first and most important task of his job today. I was very impressed by his improvement on a surface that’s as far to his comfort zone as there can be. He defended as well as he can, returned better than he usually does, and I loved his aggression on the FH side.
This bodes well for Almagro’s chances to play again in this tie, and certainly for better results away from clay in 2013.
Thanks for reading!
5th set stats: