London: Berdych d. Tipsarevic

by: | November 23, 2011

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TbIn the course of just 72 hours at the ATP World Tour Finals, Tomas Berdych took a ramble deep into the valley of despair and then hiked up to the pinnacle of exhilaration. In the course of that journey, he acted as an instrument revealing to us the difference between two Serbian buddies, Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic. He lost to the former on Monday; today, he defeated the latter, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6).

Berdych played top seed and world No. 1 Djokovic to a standstill; the men needed a third-set tiebreaker to settle it, not long after Berdych blew a match point with a wild forehand errror. In the tiebreaker, a flurry of similar forehand errors—best explained by the pressure Berdych felt playing against his formidable opponent—ultimately cost him the match. 

Today, though, he was playing No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic, who was in as an alternate only because third-seeded Andy Murray had pulled out of the event with a groin injury. In all fairness to Berdych, this was not an easy or comfortable situation—especially in light of his 0-1 record in the round-robin stage. As the equivalent of a regular tournament's "lucky loser," Tipsarevic was under no pressure whatsoever to perform and was free to swing from his heels. That he's a Serb and running mate of Djokovic's only made the situation that much more sticky.

It only increased the pressure on Berdych when Tipsarevic came out uncowed and ready to pick up where Djokovic had left off. He broke Berdych in the very first game, and in the blink of an eye he scored another break and held a 5-1 lead. It was mostly because Berdych served horribly, and Tipsarevic was outmaneuvering him in the baseline rallies. There's a reason Tipsarevic was 4-1 against Berdych going into this match, and it's his scoot factor. Tipsarevic can motor around the court and keep the ball in play long enough to force Berdych into an error. The Czech is a natural gambler and quick-strike player, most effective when he can end points after three or five big swings of the racquet.

When Tipsarevic survived a hiccup serving for the set at 5-1 (he was down 0-40 but managed to claw his way back with five straight points, including a set-ending ace), Berdych looked to be in deep trouble. But the Czech managed to hang in through the second set; his serve improved and he began returning more aggressively. It paid off for him in the eighth game, when he pinned Tipsarevic down 15-40 and converted his second break point with a sharp cross-court forehand pass that elicited a volley error. That single break was all Berdych needed; in the next game he served out the set at 15.

The third set produced some terrific, tight, bold tennis from both men. Berdych's consistency improved and he did more damage with his serve. It was partly because Tipsarevic decided to aggressively return second serves (moreso as the set went on) instead of trying to lure Berdych into lengthy baseline exchanges—in which Tipsarevic's anticipation and quickness might force Berdych to play more shots than he would have liked.

No matter. There were no breaks in the set, and once again Berdych was looking at a third-set tiebreaker. It was emblematic of the quality in this match that neither player yielded a mini-break until Tipsarevic blinked at 3-4, making an inside-out forehand error off a Berdych service return. Still, it was so close that Hawkeye was called into play to confirm the "out" call.

Tipsarevic held the next point, but at 5-4, with two serves to come, the match was on Berdych's racquet. He promptly lost both points thanks to a pair of forehand errors. Suddenly, Tipsarevic had a match point. He attacked with the forehand but Berdych made a good pass to force a backhand volley error. A moment after he had—and lost—match point, Tipsarevic double-faulted and suddenly it was match-point for Berdych, with serve.

A desperate lunge at Berdych's next serve caused Tipsarevic to fall, and Berdych tagged a forehand winner off the return as Tipsarevic scrambled to get up (and fell again). Game, set, match.

Berdych looked far more relaxed and confident in today's tiebreaker, even though he was in a far more critical situation—almost certain elimination in the event he lost. The difference could only be put down to the fact that when he looked across the net, he saw Tipsarevic, and not Djokovic.

But in any event, I'd bet Berdych has had his fill of Serbs for the time being.

—Pete Bodo

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