Welcome to another installment of LiveAnalysis! Today’s match-up: World Number 1 Novak Djokovic faces off against World Number 6 Tomas Berdych. Until the round of 16 both men had gone through their draw without losing a set. That ended with Djokovic’s five-hour tussle with Stanislas Wawrinka two days ago. Djokovic found himself two points away from a 2 sets to love lead, and then down a break to start the deciding fifth set. In the end, the Houdini of tennis found a way to escape, enhancing his escape artist reputation.
Djokovic and Berdych are meeting for the 13th time, and the head-to-head, in case you missed it, is a horribly lopsided 11-1 in favor of the three time Australian Open champion.
However, Tomas Berdych does have to take solace in the fact that his lone win over Djokovic came at a Grand Slam: it was at the 2010 Wimbledon semifinals, no less. However, that was only the third meeting between the two, and Djokovic has won 9 straight matches against the recently-hired H&M ambassador since then. Here are other interesting bits about their four year’s worth of matches:
– In his 11 defeats, Berdych has managed to win a grand total of four sets.
– There have been two matches decided by a retirement: but both times it was Lucie Safarova’s ex who pulled the plug on the match.
– They played each other for the first time in 2008, and then for the second time a year later. But starting in 2010, Djokovic has played Berdych at least 3 times every year.
– They’ve met once before at the Australian Open, with Djokovic offering Berdych a breadstick sandwich of sorts in the 2011 quarterfinals: Djokovic won 6-1, 7-6(5), 6-1.
Now, why is this head-to-head so lopsided? The next segment will hopefully shed some light:
Things to Watch For:
– How aggressive can Djokovic be after the Wawrinka marathon? Djokovic puts Berdych under a lot of pressure by executing the basic tactical gameplan against tall people: make them move from side to side and force the big guys to defend. When Djokovic lost to Berdych at Wimbledo, the then-slumping Serb ceded complete control of the points to the Czech, something that he can’t afford to do today, given how sharp Berdych has looked until this point.
– Can Berdych stave off Djokovic’s return of serve with consistently great serving? Berdych will have to get a lot of easy points with his serve, either via aces, service winners or by forcing short returns to put away without much difficulty. If he can hold easily, it’ll be half the battle.
– Can the “Homie Handshake” fan put any pressure on Djokovic’s serve? We saw what Wawrinka did to the World Number 1’s serve the other night: he pummeled it to the point that he broke Djokovic’s serve five times at one point, forcing Djokovic to take some speed off his first delivery in the hope of raising his 1st serve percentage. Can Berdych do the same?
– Can Berdych keep his forehand from imploding? When Berdych shamelessly said that his forehand was the best in the game in a CNN interview the other day, it made many tennis fans laugh. After all, the tales of woe of Berdych’s forehand in big points is well known: that shot is far from reliable. Can Berdych win most of the FH to FH exchanges and keep the errors in check during the big moments of the match.
– Finally, can Tomas Berdych overcome the inevitable adversity that he’ll face in this match? In the past, the Czech has gotten too down on himself if things don’t go his way against Djokovic – how will he respond if the Serb takes an early lead, or worse, comes back to erase a Berdych lead? We all know what happened against Roger Federer in 2009.
The players are finishing their warm-up, so we’re about to start! Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game updates throughout the match!
First Set – Tomas Berdych will serve first
I'm trying to think of a more drastic kit change than Berd's. Goes from looking like a stud Pro to a dude who shops at Ross.
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) January 22, 2013
0-0: A pretty uneventful hold to 15 for the World Number 6. Not much to say about that other than it was the kind of tennis Berdych wants to play tonight: short rallies, and always moving forward.
At one point, Berdych put away an easy volley. PMac said that Berdych needs to be able to do that consistently. Fowler made a good point: will Berdych be able to put away those volleys at 5-all or in a TB? Like all of us, he remembers what happened in 2009 against Federer.
1-0, Berdych: An even less eventful love hold for Djokovic. That was rather surprising, given his last match.
1-1: Berdych comes up with a FH UFE and a stoned volley to go down 0-30. These are the kinds of things he wants to avoid in this match. After an ace, Djokovic sends a standard CC BH into the net. Before he has time to lament his mistake, Berdych sends a BH well long under no pressure. First BP of the match for Djokovic. A good serve up the T forces Djokovic’s error, and the BP is saved. Different side of the court, same spot, and even better result: Berdych with an ace to give himself a chance to hold. Djokovic gets a little lucky with an angled BH return, and then uses his BH DTL to great effect. Deuce #2. The pair engage in a tough FH to FH duel, and it’s Djokovic who comes on top, and sets up another BP. Amber alert for Berdych. Djokovic then puts on a clinic of clean hitting, and nets the break with a very pretty BH DTL:
That was impressive from Djokovic, who is timing his FH with breathtaking precision. When Djokovic is hitting the ball this cleanly…he’s absolutely deadly.
Also? Tomas Berdych is way too sloppy at the start of a match of this magnitude. He’s not looking to attack as frequently as Wawrinka did, and that’s just not a winning strategy. He should be patient, yes. But not wait forever until the right shot comes in order to unload. For now, Berdych seems intent on playing “little man” tennis: happy to rally around with a superior mover. This is what gets the Czech in trouble so many times.
2-1, Djokovic: Another love hold for Djokovic, who is holding serve very comfortably. Tomas Berdych is not a bad returner, but he seems completely confused any patterns Djokovic uses. And they’ve played each other 12 times before tonight!
Another problem for Berdych? There’s a breeze going through Laver. The ESPN crew are saying that this is the breeziest night they’ve had during the fortnight. Berdych has to be one of the worst wind players in the world.
3-1, Djokovic: Djokovic keeps up his clean-hitting…until he has a rather normal FH at 15-40. He frames it badly, but after a very entertaining (and rather violent) rally, Berdych sends a FH long, and the World Number 1 goes up a second break
Fun trivia by the ESPN people: this is the 597th career match for both guys! That’s amazing. In related news, Berdych is two years older than Djokovic.
4-1, Djokovic: Berdych keeps trying to just hit the ball at Djokovic, and not very hard. Djokovic holds at love again, after a crazy FH CC winner that I can’t really describe.
Tomas Berdych has won all of 1 point off of Djokovic’s serve so far. A round after Djokovic saw his serve broken 5 straight times. Djokovic is serving 67% 1st serves, which is high, but still – we’re not talking about Federer’s serve here. It’s just amazing that a talent like Berdych can play Djokovic 12 times and not have any clue about the Serb’s service patterns.
5-1, Djokovic: Djokovic is eating up Berdych’s serve, and keeps being incredibly clean off the ground. After a most gorgeous DTL slice put him in the position to put away a forehand (that clipped a line, just for flair’s sake), Djokovic has a set point on Berdych’s serve. Berdych then double faults, sealing a shockingly bad set for him, and a near virtuoso performance from the three time Aussie Open champion.
First set to Novak Djokovic, 6-1. Here are your stats:
Second Set – Tomas Berdych will serve first
0-0: Djokovic plays a very sloppy game, donating UFEs left and right until going down 15-40, and then Berdych plays one of the few purposefully aggressive points of the match so far to claim the break.
That looked unlikely about two seconds ago. I mean, Berdych won only one point on Djokovic’s serve in the entire first set! Won 4 in that last game alone.
1-0, Berdych: Berdych with incredible reflexes at 15-all to put away a volley after Djokovic’s passing shot clipped the net and flew up. It was quite impressive. Djokovic shows off incredible defense at 30-all, and Berdych somehow avoids stoning a few volleys. Very impressive point. The match is heating up. Berdych holds after a perfectly executed swinging volley.
That was impressive from Berdych, who now seems more intent on pushing Djokovic back from the baseline: it’s his only chance to win this match.
Hmmm. Novak has gone back to serving poorly, missing lots and backing off his shots. Strange, considering the first set.
— Chris P (@scoobschris) January 22, 2013
2-0: Berdych now using a very sound tactical element: attacking Djokovic’s FH corner with his trademark flat missiles. Keeping the ball low to the ground when hitting to that side of the court is a very good idea. Sadly, he has a chance to do it again at 30-all, but decides to go inside-out and missed by about 2 miles. Tactical indiscipline from the big guy from the Czech Republic, which is nothing new, unfortunately. Later, Berdych misses another FH to Djokovic’s BH corner, and Djokovic finally holds.
Berdych should know by now that it’s a better strategy to force Djokovic to defend with his FH, since he tends to lob it back. When you attack his BH, Djokovic consistently gets great depth without having to rely on a single handed backhand slice or slice/lob. Again, they’ve played 12 times against each other, and Berdych seems fixated on attacking Djokovic’s backhand side.
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) January 22, 2013
2-1, Berdych: Berdych holds to 30 with an emphatic ace. At 30-all Djokovic barely missed a crazy FH passing shot flick that would’ve been an absolutely outrageous shot.
3-1, Berdych: Berdych’s FH is on song right now: he sends a CC missile for a winner at 15-all, and then a DTL rocket for 15-40. Djokovic saves the first BP with a simple BH putaway after Berdych left a return well short. A service winner saves the second BP. But then Berdych makes two very silly BH UFEs (one a regulation drive BH, the other a fairly sad sliced BH that sailed well long), and Djokovic holds.
That was a key, key game. Berdych had Djokovic reeling, finally asserting his greater firepower from the beginning of the rallies. However, he didn’t get two returns in play, and then his BH let him down. I still don’t like how Berdych is hitting his FH into Djokovic’s deuce court: way too much spin, and way too few times has the Czech gone flat instead.
3-2, Berdych: At 15-all, Djokovic’s chronic inability to put away points using the open court costs him dearly: Berdych guessed right, and hit a miraculous lunging FH pass that flew by the confounded World Number 1. No matter, Djokovic outmaneuvers Berdych once more from the baseline, and it’s 30-all. Two huge serves from the ex-Nike ambassador and the break lead has been maintained.
Berdych finding his range now. Spectacular running stab forehand winner, then an ace to hold for 4-2 in the second. #ausopen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 22, 2013
Djokovic will rue that 15-all point. He was in great position to gain the edge in that game.
4-2, Berdych: Djokovic holds at love with the kind of FHs that saw him blitz Berdych in the opening stanza of the match.
In a rather strange turn of events, Berdych has won more return points in the 2nd set than Djokovic (10 to 6). This after winning all of 1 return point during the entire first set. Tennis is weird sometimes.
4-3, Berdych: Berdych badly mishandles two decent (not great, just decent) Djokovic returns, and he’s down 15-30. Serious danger for him. Djokovic is angered by his decision to slice his BH during the next rally, which he loses after Berdych cleanly connects on a FH approach. Berdych comes to net again, and reaps the benefits of another great approach shot. 40-30. Djokovic gets a great return from a big wide serve, and this time Berdych does not botch the FH reply.
That last game was all about what Berdych did well or did incorrectly. Not sure Djokovic did much wrong throughout: he even put back every single return in play.
5-3, Berdych: Djokovic validates his current status as the King of the Lob with a gorgeous floater over Berdych for 30-0. However, a DF and a huge Berdych return DTL erase the lead. Berdych gets another great BH return in – for a winner, and he has a set point ahead of schedule. That was his 1st BH winner of the match, per ESPN. Djokovic fires a flat missile into that same BH, and forces the error. Deuce. The Czech then botches two very makeable returns, and Djokovic escapes.
Crunch time for Berdych now. Can he keep his game clean enough to hold to clinch the set?
5-4, Berdych: The classic Berdych stoned volley appears, as always, at the worst possible time: a simple putaway is botched to make it 15-40. But once again, Berdych goes for his 2nd ace up the T from the deuce court to save one BP. They then get into a hard rally where Djokovic tempts a Berdych error with a tame BH slice up the middle of the court. Berdych fully commits to a big FH into Djokovic’s deuce court, and does not miss. A silly decision from the World Number One on BP. No matter: Djokovic goes to the well in the next point, attacking Berdych’s FH mercilessly with loads of spin that keeps pulling Berdych wider and wider. BP again, but it’s erased by an incredible Berdych BH DTL off a very solid return by Djokovic. Another great point ends when Djokovic comes up with a ridiculous slide BH DTL off a fantastic inside out FH by Berdych. Again, attacking Djokovic on that side is not such a great idea. BP again. Djokovic puts the return in play, and just as he was gearing into a FH onslaught, Djokovic misses the first pseudo aggressive one. It wasn’t even designed to hurt that much. A bad UFE. Strangely enough, Djokovic was trying to go into Berdych’s BH corner, when he had been reaping so many rewards from going to the other side of the court. Service winner by Berdych, and then a very good FH approach forces a wild miss by Djokovic.
Set to Tomas Berdych, 6-4. Here are your 2nd set stats:
Djokovic played an extremely mediocre service game right after dominating the first set. A crucial lapse in concentration that ended up costing him the set, and revitalizing an opponent who seemed lost at sea. Full credit to Berdych for coming up with some timely great shots just when he needed them in that key 5-4 game.
I have a sense that this might be equally as dramatic as the other night. The Berd really believes!
— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) January 22, 2013
Third Set – Novak Djokovic will serve first
0-0: Djokovic holds to 30, but you can see clearly that Berdych is getting better returns in play. Hence, Djokovic is having to hit his second ball in the rally from a much more awkward position.
When Novak Djokovic loses the 2nd set at Australian Open he has a 3-3 record. Only the 7th time he loses 2nd set in 42 matches
— Steph Trudel (@TrudelSteph) January 22, 2013
1-0, Djokovic: Berdych’s FH lets him down down 30-40, and it costs him any and all momentum the Czech had gained by toughing out that second set. 2 FH UFEs sandwiched a gorgeous FH lob over Djokovic (Cahill refused to call him King of the Lob, saying Hewitt’s BH lob is better). Djokovic up a break now.
2-0, Djokovic: Berdych has actually defended the near court very well today: Djokovic has tried the droppers more than a few times, and I think Berdych has held his own. Sadly for him, his sprint barely got him within 40-15, and a pretty Djokovic CC BH pass sealed the break consolidation.
This is a huge test for Berdych. This was the adversity I was talking about in the preview: he showed great composure and while he was aided by Djokovic at the start of the second set, the Czech kept his cool and served out the set. However, he now lost that psychological edge of surviving that set by playing a sub par service game to open the third set. Berdych has returned well enough to believe that the set is not lost.
3-0, Djokovic: Berdych once again struggles to handle Djokovic’s returns to his FH, and the second one he botches in the game sets up 15-40 for Djokovic. The Serb gets a good 1st serve return in play, and then takes his first shot at a BH DTL winner to take the double break.
Berdych another guy who stayed up to watch Djokovic and Wawrinka. So he knows what needs to be done — not sure if that helps or hurts.
— Kamakshi Tandon (@Kamakshi_Tandon) January 22, 2013
A double break for Djokovic now, 4-0 in the third set. This match has only featured Berdych in an occasional guest starring role… #ausopen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 22, 2013
4-0, Djokovic: Djokovic is back to his clean-hitting ways of the 1st set. He just vaporized a BH DTL winner to hold to love.
In this match, Djokovic has gone from an A+ level, to a B-, and now back to A+. Sputtering, but when he reaches those peaks, there’s very little Berdych can do. Still, Berdych – like Djokovic in the 2nd set – will lament having played such a loose game to start a set.
Djokovic posts an answer of “five” in response to the question, ‘how many games can you rack up against Berdych in 19 minutes’. One-sided.
— Dan Quarrell (@Dan_Eurosport) January 22, 2013
5-0, Djokovic: Berdych stops the bleeding, but has to dig deep to do so. At this point, he needs any positive sign he can carry into the fourth set.
5-1, Djokovic: The gentlemen play the point of the match so far at 30-all – a cat and mouse game at net triggered by another Djokovic dropper. It ends with a gorgeous Djokovic volley that clips the sideline. A service winner later, and Djokovic is up 2 sets to 1.
Set to Novak Djokovic, 6-1: Here are your third set stats:
Fourth Set – Tomas Berdych will serve first
No breeze at all on Laver at the moment, according to Cahill, who is courtside. Can this be a good sign for Berdych?
0-0: The tall Czech plays a very purposeful service game, moving forward after the right shots, and putting away simple volleys and overheads. This is the game he needed at the start of the third set.
That last game illustrates what Berdych needs to do throughout the entire match, not just every once in a while. For some strange reason, he can bring this kind of constant aggression against Federer, but not against Djokovic. Is it because of the lack of confidence stemming from how few easy points he gets on his serve against Djokovic as opposed to Federer? I have no idea.
1-0, Berdych: Djokovic plays a supremely confident hold, in which his FH was in top shape.
There’s something about the way Djokovic has hit the ball in sets 1 and 3 that is slightly overwhelming: the Uniqlo man is being very aggressive in terms of pace, and frequently changing the direction and spin of the ball, all without missing much of anything. It’s Matrix Tennis, really.
1-1: That FH lets Berdych down again, and of course, it’s at 30-40. It was a pretty senseless UFE in a rally that had just started to heat up. He was barely provoked into the error.
And yet, Berdych still think she has the best forehand on tour.
2-1, Djokovic: Djokovic holds at love after blitzing the hapless Berdych with another barrage of big and precise FHs. Matrix Tennis.
Djokovic has won 56 straight at Slams against players outside Top 4. Last loss at Slam to outside Top 4: No.13 Berdych Wimbledon ’10
— CHRIS MCKENDRY (@CMCKENDRY_ESPN) January 22, 2013
3-1, Djokovic: Berdych finds some good form to fend off Djokovic’s continued siege, and holds. He has avoided another breadstick. The highlight of the game was Djokovic handing Berdych a 1st serve after the Czech badly missed a delivery when some drunk fans kept screaming during his service motion. Sportsmanship!
3-2, Djokovic: Djokovic holds at love with the help of some errant Berdych FHs.
Since Djoker last loss to Birdman in 2010 wimby he has won 26 straight matches vsCzech players
— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) January 22, 2013
Neat stat from ESPN again: they just said that the difference in distance run between Djokovic and Wawrinka the other day was just 7 meters, or around 21 feet. That’s a pretty neat little nugget.
4-2, Djokovic: For the first time all match, Berdych did not chase a Djokovic dropper down. Cahill mentioned how Berdych has been struggling with a hamstring issue, so running forward is not exactly comfortable. Still, Berdych holds without much more drama.
— Joe Fleming (@ByJoeFleming) January 22, 2013
4-3, Djokovic: The match has become a rather slow slog to the finish line. Berdych is finding it hard to make any inroads in Djokovic’s service games, and the Houdini of Tennis is managing his focus rather efficiently. Hence, he holds without much difficulty.
5-3, Djokovic: Berdych gets some good serves in, along with some nice depth, and is able to hold rather easily to 15.
Djokovic will now attempt to serve out the match: something that he never really had a chance to do against Wawrinka.
Djokovic has won 16 of last 17 service points. Very confident on his forehand in this one. @ausopen
— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) January 22, 2013
5-4, Djokovic: Berdych comes out firing, as he should have from the beginning of the match, and goes up 15-30. But yet another FH UFE makes it 30-all. Djokovic hit a 109 mph 2nd serve on that point. That is pure confidence. A service winner gives the Serb his first match point, which he wastes after going for a dropper that didn’t clear the net. Deuce. The men trade blows from mostly the middle of the court, but the deuce side opens for Djokovic as his previous shot clips the line and triggers a short response from Berdych. MP #2, which is again wasted when Djokovic overcooks a BH putaway from the baseline that just had to land in to be a winner: Berdych had been pulled well wide before. No matter, a service winner sets up MP #3. Berdych goes for it on the return, forces a short reply from Djokovic, and puts away the easy FH. Deuce once again. Djokovic is made to work for the next point by a scrambling Berdych, who somehow gets a hard CC BH back while fully outstretched. MP #4. Djokovic then sends a beautiful curling slider up the T for an ace, and the match is sealed.
Game, set and match to Novak Djokovic: 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Here are your fourth set stats:
In the first set, Novak Djokovic was everything he wasn’t (and wasn’t allowed to be) during his battle against Wawrinka: aggressive, precise, fully engaged, and in control of the proceedings. The same could be said of the third set and most of the fourth. The lone blemish in Djokovic’s performance was that terrible service game to start the second set, which ended up costing him some valuable time off the court. Overall, Djokovic was rock solid from the baseline, and his forehand was simply jaw-droppingly good. He did everything he wanted with it: change direction of the ball, change spins, flatten it out, return well, counter well, defend well. Rarely did he miss, and if the FH-to-FH match-up were a boxing bout, Djokovic’s stroke would’ve won by TKO. An impressive performance from a shot that famously became erratic for almost two seasons.
What bode well for Djokovic’s Australian Open chances was that the 3 time champion didn’t seem to show any scars from the epic Wawrinka match. And today’s four setter won’t need nearly as many ice baths as Djokovic had to go through after his 5 hour battle with Stan The Man.
Now, onto Tomas Berdych.
Let’s say you love tennis, but haven’t seen Djokovic and Berdych play each before. If you watched today’s match, you might have thought Djokovic had scouted Berdych many, many times in the past, and that he had a clear idea of what to do in order to beat the Czech: get him moving from side to side, mix in a few droppers, attack the FH during rallies, pulling him wide, send returns to that side, etc. But if you saw Berdych play, you would have thought he was playing Djokovic for the first time in his life. The Czech showed no tactical acumen whatsoever, and was reactive for most of the match. He only showed glimpses of purpose and determination – which is far too little when you consider that he’s trying to beat somebody who is 11-1 ahead in their head-to-head, and ranked #1 in the world.
What did Berdych try to do today? Do what he does every day, I guess. Rally, react, go on the offensive every now and then. Try to attack to all sides, not focusing on any in particular. He was out there to hit the ball and see what happens.
I was wondering why Berdych can be so consistently aggressive against Federer, yet so frequently passive against Djokovic. My theory is that Djokovic takes away Berdych’s confidence by neutralizing the Czech’s serve. Djokovic won 58% of Berdych’s 2nd serve points – that’s above his own return average. And even though Djokovic won “only” 36% of points played on Berdych’s 1st serve, he rarely let Berdych have easy points with it, conceding only 8 aces over four sets. At times it seemed like Djokovic knew exactly where the serve was coming, and Berdych frequently had to deal with a second ball that wasn’t very comfortable to hit.
Regardless, what I found particularly appalling was how terribly Berdych returned Djokovic’s serve: he only won 27% of those points all match. What’s worse, he won as many return points (13) in the lone set he actually won as in the other three sets combined. COMBINED.
And let’s not pretend Djokovic is Sampras or anything. Yes, the Serb had a very good serving day today, but his delivery is far from unreadable or overpowering. Wawrinka broke him five straight times! What I find galling is that Berdych has had 12 chances in five years to get a clue about Djokovic’s serve, yet it really seems like most of the World Number 1’s serves are a completely mystery to him.
What has to be more frustrating for Berdych fans (and his coach) is that the Czech has that great CC flat FH that he could use to really disrupt Djokovic. Or that even though he saw what Stan Wawrinka’s determined approach (almost) reaped, he came out today happy to react to whatever Djokovic was willing to give him, instead of being aggressive from the first ball onward. It’s just puzzling.
It’s as if you have all the tools and instructions to assemble a nice piece of furniture, but decided to set the instructions on fire and flush half the screws down the toilet.
At 27 and having played over 500 matches on tour, I just don’t see how this key part of Berdych’s game, his tactical acumen, gets any better. Which is a depressing thought.