There's a reason Andy Roddick was 6-3 against Tomas Berdych going into their third-round clash tonight, and it had nothing to do with forehands, backhands, or serves—tasks that the seventh-ranked Czech handles quite well, thank you.
The big, not-so-secret advantage Roddick has historically held over Berdych was his quality as a competitor, a superiority that seemed all the more striking precisely because Berdych, who appears to be the more naturally talented player, has struggled so frequently with his confidence and focus. For a spectacularly talented player, Berdych has had an astonishing capacity to losing the plot in any match.
It seemed that might be the case again tonight; that it wasn't reaffirms the feeling that Berdych has made great strides as a competitor—or did it just appear that way because of Roddick's shortcomings? Roddick has had a career-long ability to find a way to win against some of the very same guys against whom Berdych often found ways to lose—including each other. But tonight Roddick was unable to keep his foot planted on Berdych's neck and thus lost, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
Berdych bolted to an immediate lead, breaking Roddick in the very first game. The lanky 26-year-old looked particularly strong, especially on his own service games, while Roddick looked surprisingly passive and ineffective—could this be the same player who won one of the biggest titles of his career with a commanding, confident performance against Berdych in Miami not quite two years ago? Roddick's forehand didn't penetrate the court and his backhand was merely defensive, allowing Berdych to dictate and close out rallies on his own terms.
We all know that both of these men can serve big. Yet while Berdych cruised through his service games, he nearly broke Roddick for a second time in the seventh game (with Roddick serving at 2-4), but drilled a backhand out to miss the opportunity. Undeterred, Berdych still got that second break, closing the set with it.
By the same token, Berdych took great care of his serve. In the seven service games that went into Berdych's 6-3, 3-2 lead, he lost a grand total of just three points. And while his 79 percent success rate on first serves (for the match) was impressive, his 73 percent rate on second serves (19 of 26) was mind-blowing.
Those numbers are a testament not only to Berdych's prowess, but Roddick's impotence. Yet Roddick found a way to make a match of it in the next two games. He held with an ace to level the second set at 3-3, then won more points in the next game than he had in all seven of Berdych's previous service games, capitalizing on his second break point with a forehand service-return blast that Berdych mishandled with his forehand.
Roddick consolidated the break and went on the win the set when he served the 10th game (it took him three set points and he had to fend off one break point). Once again, it looked like the former No. 1 and U.S. Open champ had illustrated the adage that if you just hang in there and keep the faith long enough, good things will happen.
But Roddick, who's struggled with injuries in what has been a frustrating start to 2012, took his foot off the gas. He allowed his opponent two easy holds to start the third set (Berdych won his first service game with three straight serves to Roddick's forehand), and was broken for 1-3 when Berdych cracked a massive forehand approach winner.
Roddick threatened to break back in the next game, but from 15-30 he flubbed a makeable second-serve return and failed to return two service winners to his backhand side. Roddick came up with a strong hold in the next game, after which Berdych survived a touch-and-go game to build his lead to 5-2. In the final game, two forehand errors and a double fault left Roddick facing triple-match point—although Berdych needed only one to win it, with an inside-out forehand winner.
We've seen Roddick's forehand fail him, and his mobility and backhand have sometimes left him hanging out to dry. But you could always count on his serve and competitive fire. Tonight, his serve was okay and his combative skills no better. And that spells trouble for Roddick against a player of Berdych's skills.