Welcome to another installment of LiveAnalysis! Today’s match-up is the 16th encounter between 26 year-old Rafael Nadal and 27 year-old Tomas Berdych.
How did both men reach this semifinal stage? Tomas Berdych has breezed through his draw, and arrives to his first Indian Wells semifinal without having dropped a set. He’s defeated Zverev, Florian Mayer, Gasquet and Kevin Anderson. Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, swept past Ryan Harrison, got a walkover into the fourth round, played a classic against Ernests Gulbis, and soundly defeated a very hobbled Roger Federer. As we know, the last sentence I typed encapsulates Nadal’s entire hard court activity since last year’s Miami M1000.
Nadal and Berdych have played each other at least once every year starting in 2005, which is remarkable. Their head-to-head, which Nadal leads 12 to 3, looks like this:
Here are a few noteworthy facts about the past matches between both men:
– As we’ve heard over and over again, Nadal has won the last 11 meetings with Berdych. That’s quite a streak. Berdych won 3 out of the first 4 matches between them, which even included their fair share of bad blood. Since then, both gentlemen have gotten on good terms, but Nadal has won all their matches.
– During this 11-match winning streak, Nadal and Berdych have played 3 times on clay, twice on grass, and 6 times on hard court. That means that they’ve played over half their matches on surfaces that favor Tomas Berdych. Yet he’s 0-11.
– In the past 11 matches between them, Nadal has won 26 out of the 28 sets they’ve played. That’s simply outrageous.
Three Things to Watch For:
1. Can Tomas Berdych execute – and stay with – the right gameplan today? The Czech cannot afford to let Nadal boss him around the baseline – he has to be aggressive. Berdych needs to find Nadal’s BH, and look to attack with his inside-out FH. What will work in Berdych’s favor is how well he’s been hitting his backhand down the line, as I covered here. He used that shot to great effect against Kevin Anderson. But Berdych has to be very disciplined with his approach: more often than not the World Number 6 tends to stray from his tactics, and resort to pure instinctive rallying. Which is never a good thing against someone like Rafael Nadal.
2. Will Nadal be able to push Berdych back consistently? The Spaniard knows that, just as his rival, he can’t afford to let the tall Czech push him back – that means more running, and more wear and tear on his “so-so” knee. Nadal has to be aggressive, and get Berdych on the run. We all know how dangerous the Czech can be if he has time to set his feet and fire away.
3. Will Berdych be able to punish Nadal’s 2nd serve as well as the Spaniard’s return of serve stance? Tomas Berdych has had a lot of success punishing people’s 2nd serves (just ask Roger Federer), and he’s gotten better and better at it. Today he’s sure to get a few short ones, given how Nadal has been serving. The other part of the question has to with how far back Nadal has been standing to return serve these days: if Berdych is able to hit his wide serves well, Nadal will be forced to step in and cut off that angle.
It has to be said, this is probably Berdych’s best shot at stopping Nadal’s dominance over him: the World’s sixth best player has been having a fine season so far, and Nadal is still in the process of getting his body adjusted to hard courts. As we saw against Roger Federer, there are a few things Nadal can’t yet do on a tennis court. It’s up to Berdych to exploit those situations.
Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game updates throughout the match!
The men are on court:
As in previous LiveAnalysis posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:
BP: Break Point
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
GP: Game Point
SP: Set Point
UFE: Unforced Error
First Set – Tomas Berdych will serve first.
0-0: Berdych pummels a CC FH into Nadal’s BH, and forces the error on the 1st point of the match. Then DFs. Minutes later, Berdych comes in to put away a short return, and it’s 40-30. However, a BH DTL UFE gets us to the first Deuce of the match. Moments later, Berdych sends Nadal from side to side using his BH (!!!), and forces the Spaniard’s error to hold.
1-0, Berdych: Nadal races to a 40-15 lead, with the only blemish consisting on a FH UFE on his part. However, the 2-time Indian Wells champion closes the hold with a nice ace up the T.
One of the problems for Berdych during his double-digit losing streak against Nadal has been holding serve. Nadal has a remarkable read on Berdych’s big delivery (similar to Novak Djokovic, who is now 12-1 against the Czech), and to make matters worse for the Czech, Nadal’s lefty serve is still a bit of a mystery for him. The opening games of the match are a perfect example of this trend.
1-1: As I was typing that, Berdych got up to a very quick 40-0 lead. Nadal pegged him back to 30 with a vicious CC BH return that forced an error, and then some vintage lefy-FH pounding to Berdych’s BH corner that left the Spaniard with an easy smash.
2-1, Berdych: Berdych is really looking to attack Nadal’s FH corner, which is smart – provided he doesn’t give Nadal enough time to get a good FH in. The Czech forces an error on the 1st point, then misses on an aggressive CC BH on the next. Berdych gets another look at an I-O FH, but misses, and a missed return later Nadal has held to 15. Easy hold.
So far, Nadal is playing well – getting good depth on both his FH and his BH, and serving decently. The extra recovery day had to help.
One thing that’s problematic for Berdych is his tendency to hit down the middle. He’s made a couple of UFE already, but the main issue is getting depth when you hit there. Nadal loves attacking short balls up the middle with his FH.
2-2: Berdych has a very nice and quick hold to 15. That was his best service game of the match. Nadal had a chance to get a second point in that game, but barely missed a CC FH that would’ve won the point.
STATS UPDATE Through 5 games, Tomas Berdych has only lost 2 of 13 pts played on his 1st serve, and is serving at 68%, which is great. But the Czech trails 7-9 in baseline points. Nadal has not lost a point with his 1st serve, and has only lost 2 with his 2nd serve.
3-2, Berdych: Nadal has a relatively simple volley at 40-15, but sends it wide. A surprising miss. Berdych has won 2 points on Nadal’s serve for the 1st time! But before he can celebrate, Nadal hits his fantastic lefty slider serve, and blasts a FH DTL off Berdych’s return. An impressive hold.
3-3: Tomas Berdych and my cable modem have their difficulties at the same time: the Czech goes down 0-40 on his serve, saves 2 BPs impressively…and then misses an inside-in short FH pretty badly. Nadal with the break!
4-3, Nadal: It seemed like the man from Manacor was going to have an easy consolidation game, after he got up 40-15 on Berdych. However, two errors bring us to the first deuce on any of his service games. Nadal then hits two wicked CC FHs that Berdych can’t even reach, and he consolidates the break.
This is where Nadal is standing to return Berdych’s second serve:
That’s pretty far. However, Berdych is not making Nadal pay for that return position, since he can’t hit a wide kicker consistently from the AD court, and he can’t get his slider from the AD court to work well, either.
5-3, Nadal: Berdych holds to 15 after Nadal sends an aggressive FH DTL well wide. A much needed hold for the man that’s been wearing the same bland outfit for all of 2013 (did that deal with H&M really happen?).
5-4, Nadal: The first point is vintage Nadal play: very aggressive from the start, just pummeling Berdych with his FH from side to side. Ends with a violent inside-out FH putaway. 15-all. Then, a letcord doesn’t go the Spaniard’s way, so it’s 15-all. Then we get a fascinating rally: Berdych attacks once, twice, and three times with sharp CC BHs that inevitably lead to a Nadal FH error. However, Nadal makes it 30-all with a killer CC BH pass. Berdych made the bad mistake to hit his approach right at Nadal. Also, Nadal got his first time violation before that last point. Berdych misses a CC FH long, and Nadal has his first SP, 40-30. And the set is clinched with a up the T service winner.
That 1st set showed Nadal is in impressive form, and Berdych is still clueless as to what to do against such a version of Nadal (or any version, for that matter). The only positive thing I can say about Tomas is that he was similarly outplayed in the 1st set of the Dubai semifinal against Roger Federer, and he ended up finding a way to win that match. Tough ask today, though.
First Set to Rafael Nadal, 6-4.
Here are your full first set stats:
Second Set – Tomas Berdych will serve first.
0-0: Berdych gets a nice and quick hold to 15. Nadal had a look at a FH pass, and botched a return.
Here’s a fascinating graph of Nadal’s return hitting point:
It marks how Nadal is hitting 1st serves from up closer to the baseline, and drops further back for 2nd serve returns. On the surface, this is just bizarre, and ill-advised. What Nadal is doing well, though, is getting a lot of depth and a lot of pace on those 2nd serve returns. That compensates for all the real estate he’s giving up in terms of position, since a deep, hard ball will allow the Spaniard to return to the baseline eventually. The danger is dropping those returns short, naturally.
1-0, Berdych: Nadal holds to 30, after a bad FH UFE to start, and a magnificent point that Berdych won.
1-1: Berdych was up 40-15 without much difficulty, but then DFs, and misses a FH wildly. Deuce #1. However, a good service winner up the T plus a violent FH gives the Czech a nervy hold.
STATS UPDATE Through 2-1 in the 2nd set, Nadal is serving at 72% first serves. And winning 77% of those points. Berdych is at 60%, and winning 79% of those points. In terms of winners, it’s interesting to see that Nadal still leads this category, 11 to 9. That’s not a good sign for Berdych – no way he wins this match if he’s letting Nadal be so aggressive.
2-1, Berdych: AT 30-all, Berdych looks to attack with his CC BH…but misses wide. That was a significant miss, given how few half-chances Berdych has had in this match. And then, Nadal’s lefty slider out wide clinches the game. That serve is money.
2-2: For the second service game in a row, Berdych races to a 40-15 lead, and then DFs. Berdych then appears to hit an ace, Nadal challenges, but the call was correct.
Berdych is still hanging in out there, but he has to make a dent in Nadal’s service games. There’s no other option, unless he think she can survive until a 2nd set tiebreaker.
Here’s a fantastic graph showing whether Nadal has hit FHs or BHs, and from where on the court:
As we know, Nadal claimed that his knee wasn’t letting him run around his BH as often as he wanted – yet today he’s hitting 78% of FHs. Yes, Berdych is trying to play more to Nadal’s FH corner, but still – you can see how many FHs Nadal has been able to hit from his BH corner. The knee is getting better and better, it seems.
3-2, Berdych: At 40-15, Berdych gets a great, deep return to Nadal’s FH corner. What does the 11-time major champion do? Hit a running FH DTL winner. That’s just too good.
STATS UPDATE The baseline points gap is now 5 (31 to 26) in favor of Nadal. And the Spaniard still has a lead in the winners category (12 to 10). Neither thing is good for Berdych.
3-3: The World Number 6 holds to 15 without much issue.
Here’s a fantastic graph of a long rally played by both men. Notice how Hawk-eye tracks the distance ran by both men:
There’s a misconception that Nadal does all the running on hard court matches, while the “aggressive” player has less work to do. For about 5 years, that’s just not accurate: As Nadal has stepped in closer and closer to the baseline, he’s been the aggressor in more or less equal capacity as his opponents, no matter who they are. And the fact that he can move someone like Berdych as much as he did in this point is a good clue about how he’s beaten such an aggressive player 11 straight times.
4-3, Berdych: It’s 30-all again, after a nice inside-in FH winner by Berdych. Huge point. Berdych for once varies his tactical scheme, and pushes Nadal deeper on his BH corner, and forces and error. Tomas Berdych now has his first BP of the match! It will be played on a 2nd serve. And it’s almost a DF! Nadal’s delivery clips the net, and lands in for a let. However, you won’t believe it, but Nadal then proceeds to DF. Out of nowhere, Berdych breaks and will serve for the set!
That was bizarre. Out of the blue. Nadal was in complete control of this match.
5-3, Berdych: Berdych starts with an UFE, and then Nadal goes on a violent rampage with his FH. 0-30. And then, Nadal anticipates Berdych’s gameplan of attacking his FH corner, and sends a FH DTL of his own. That’s the danger of playing to that side of Nadal’s court. 0-40, triple BP. Nadal drops back for a 2nd serve….and hooks it well long. 15-40. Nadal gets a decent return in, but Berdych’s FH strikes again – the Czech misses a simple FH long, and Nadal breaks back!
It’s widely known that even though Berdych has a huge FH, a wonderful stroke that has such power and ability to attack from various positions on the court, that side tends to crack frequently under the pressure of the big points. Both times Berdych has been broken in this match have taken place on simple FHs that the Czech has missed.
5-4, Berdych: Nadal yanks Berdych far off the court with that brutal whipped FH of his, and it’s 40-15. A short Berdych return allows the Spaniard to unleash a short putaway FH, and he’s consolidated the break.
Crunch time for Berdych. Holding here would be impressive, after what’s transpired in the last few games.
5-5: Berdych starts with a FH UFE. But then gets a service winner in, so it’s 15-all. Then another FH UFE. Berdych then hits a good serve, it gets called out by the chair umpire, who then tells Berdych that he made a mistake , so he should challenge. The ball was definitely in – it didn’t even touch any lines. Awful call. However, Nadal misses a FH, and it’s 30-all. Huge moment. The two men have a tentative rally, and Berdych’s BH cracks as it tries to go DTL. A bad UFE. 30-40, in what feels like match point. Berdych challenges a 1st serve, and it’s out. However, he gets a huge kicker up the T in, and punishes Nadal’s very short reply. Berdych is apparently out of challenges now. Anyway, Deuce #1. What happens next? Berdych sends a FH UFE way long off Nadal’s return. BP again for Nadal. And it will be played on a 2nd serve. Nadal tries to play exclusively to Berdych’s FH (obviously), but Berdych hits a very good FH DTL that Nadal can only lob back. Berdych is at net for a simple smash (though he’s facing the sun)….and he absolutely frames it. The ball floats well long. Nadal breaks and will serve for the match!
During the changeover, Robbie Koenig makes a very good point: if the sun is going to bother you, why not let the ball bounce? It would’ve been a way easier smash then. Brutal mistake by Berdych…at the worst possible time.
6-5, Nadal: We start with a tame BH DTL UFE by Nadal. Then Berdych hits a gorgeous CC BH return that forces an error. 0-30. Another deep return by Berdych, but Nadal gets his reply over the net and deep – what follows is another Berdych FH error. Nadal then goes for his sneaky up the T serve from the AD-court (everyone expects the slider out wide), and it’s 30-all. Berdych starts the next point by going on the offensive with his CC BH (as he has all match), but midway through the rally he hits to Nadal’s BH, which then offers him a nice short ball to attack. BP. Nadal erases it with another sneaky up the T serve from the AD court. Clutch. The men engage in an AD-court rally, and just when Nadal thought he had a FH DTL lined up…he misses it well long. A strange mistake. BP again for Berdych. Now Nadal tricks Berdych by going wide with his serve – this is why the up-the-T serve is so effective. However, Berdych goes for more aggressive CC BHs (might as well stick to the faulty gameplan at this point, no?), and his last one barely catches the line on its way to becoming a winner. BP again, but Nadal once again saves it with his serve. Slider out wide, this time. However, Nadal is not getting 1st serves in from the AD court. No matter – the men have an entertaining rally, and guess which stroke sends a ball into the net? Yep, Berdych’s FH. MP for Nadal. The Spaniard hits an ace up the T…but it’s a let. That was quite the serve. Nadal goes body with his 1st serve, gets a decent reply up the middle…and mistimes his FH completely. Rare error. Deuce again. It’ll be MP #2 for Nadal, now that Berdych makes a very, very soft UFE on his BH. It’ll be on a 2nd serve. What a second serve. Unbelievable slider out wide…on a second serve! It yield a wide reply, and Rafael Nadal has once again beaten Tomas Berdych.
Here are both men at net:
Game, Set and Match for Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 7-5
Here are your full match stats
Just a few weeks ago, Rafael Nadal lost a clay final to Horacio Zeballos. The week after that, he lost sets to Charly Berlocq and Martín Alund. But starting in that Sao Paulo final, Nadal has gone on a most impressive winning streak, during which he’s only lost one set (the first stanza of his fantastic win over the streaking Ernests Gulbis). In that time span, Nadal has beaten 3 top 10 players, two of which are ranked ahead of him (Ferrer in Acapulco, and Federer two days ago).
It was interesting to watch Nadal’s post match interview with Brad Gilbert today. Nadal seemed to be trying to assimilate just what he has gone through in the past few weeks, and it was clear that this was an emotional moment, because it was evident that he did not expect himself to stand where he stood at that specific moment in time: on the verge of a M1000 final on his first hard court tournament in almost a year.
How did this happen? Nadal realized that if he was going to have any success on this specific tournament, he would have to be very aggressive. Nadal realized that he couldn’t leave BHs floating short, that he couldn’t sit back and chase down endless missiles. The man from Manacor also realized that he had to take every opportunity he could to boss his opponents around with his FH – the passive play that led to his loss in the Viña del Mar final would simply mean an early exit from the California dessert. And of course, Nadal knew he had to serve very well.
All of that was on display today: Nadal was relentless in his aggression, he served spectacularly well in the crucial moments (except for the double-fault on break point at 3-4 in the second set, that is), and covered the court better than in all of his recent outings on Stadium 1. The Baccardi spokesman was in complete control of the match until that 3-4 game in the second set. Of course, we saw Nadal immediately correct his mistake, as Berdych would not win another game from that point on.
As both Novak Djokovic and Juan Martín del Potro know…Rafael Nadal will be quite a handful in the final. It will take a special kind of effort to beat him.
As for Tomas Berdych, I was impressed that he stuck with a gameplan for the entire duration of a match. The Czech came determined to engage Nadal in CC rallies, which is a good idea. However, the problem was that Berdych picked the wrong diagonal: the World Number 6 kept attacking Nadal’s FH corner with is CC BH insead of his CC FH, and didn’t really try to find Nadal’s BH all match.
You can argue that this wasn’t such a bad idea, given Nadal’s struggles to cover his FH side in previous matches. However, it would’ve been preferable if Berdych had looked to finish a point in that direction, instead of simply trying to carve out space and forcing Nadal’s errors.
I can’t avoid mentioning what happened in the two key points for Berdych: two bad FH UFEs, and then a botched smash. That is eerily similar to what happened to Berdych in the Dubai final, and it’s become a sort of sad trademark of the sixth best player in the world.
Still, this match represented progress for Berdych. He tried a gameplan, he stuck to it, and even if it didn’t work, it showed the capacity to stay with a plan for a whole match.
Homework for next time, naturally, is to pick the right scheme.