March 31, 2010

Czech, Mate!

Sometimes I wonder how the Czechs keep doing so well in Davis Cup -- they were finalists last year and just dominated the Belgians in the 2010 first round. When I see how Tomas Berdych performed against Roger Federer last night in Miami, things become a little clearer.

The twenty-ranked Berdych was coming off a quarterfinal appearance in Indian Wells and had some easy early rounds this week. But he's always been a challenge for Roger, despite the seemingly one-sided 8-1 record the world #1 held over him. In their last meeting, in fact, at last year's Australian Open, Tomas had a two-set lead before ceding the match in a three-plus hour battle.

Tuesday night on Stadium court the twenty-four year old found himself down early when he lost his first service game. But somehow he was able to steel himself and ultimately broke Federer at love to take the set. Everyone held in the second, but Roger took the tiebreak with some effort -- both men extended points longer than they had any business lasting, stretching for drop shots and getting bullets back into play.

You would think, given the experience of both men, that momentum had shifted to the fifteen-time Major winner. And, as might be expected, even when Berdych got the break in the decider he failed to serve out the match. But Roger's serve -- so often a weapon for him -- was almost nonexistent in the third set. He only got slightly more than half of his first attempts in and only won forty percent of his second. With match point on his own racquet in the tiebreak, Berdych delivered an impressive cross court volley and won the next two points -- and the round -- after that.

His win, the Czech's first over Federer since the 2004 Olympics, earns Tomas a quarterfinal match-up against Fernando Verdasco, a man he beat in the third round of Indian Wells. He's actually won five of their eight previous matches, so he should like his chances. But a couple others might even be more excited -- as the highest remaining seed, Rafael Nadal must be breathing a sigh of relief, as should 2004 champion Andy Roddick, just a few points away from a spot in the semifinals. Both have solid winning records against Berdych.

Then again, so did Federer.

Of course, with the Czech Republic's top player Radek Stepanek taking some time off, the country has to be relieved that another one of its stars is showing the ability to step up to the plate. And while we await the next stage of Davis Cup, all others on Tour should certainly take notice.

No comments: