Best-of-three, best-of-five: No matter the format, Tomas Berdych has been bested—badly—this summer at the All England Club. After losing his Wimbledon opener in straights to Ernests Gulbis, the Czech again was ousted in the minimum number of sets at the Olympic Games by Steve Darcis, 6-4, 6-4.
Today's match displayed the easily frustrated side of Berdych, a departure from the calm, almost robotic demeanor of the player who reached the 2010 Wimbledon final with groundstrokes featuring a compact wind-up, easy swing, and explosive results. Berdych wasn't without reason for his attitude: The Centre Court turf, while just resodded, appeared to break down quickly, particularly on the baseline farthest from the Royal Box. This has long been a concern, with the Olympics held just weeks after Wimbledon, but excessive moisture could have also played a role; the divots appeared to spring forth as a result of that, and it was mentioned during the broadcast.
Of course, both men contended with the same surface, and Darcis did so far better than his higher-ranked opponent. I watched the Belgian up close this year at Indian Wells, and he has a deceptively strong game built on transition from backhand slices to forehand strikes. Berdych could never solve it today, or put the contest on his terms—the prototypical baseline basher was the man most often doing the chasing.
Darcis' finely-tuned game and Berdych's inability to assert his own saw the primitive Omega-sponsored scoreboard (one of the most "un-Wimbledon" things I saw today) read 6-4, 5-2 to the underdog. But in a reprise of the Ana Ivanovic-Christina McHale match that concluded not long before, the leader wouldn't close things out easily. Ivanovic lost her lead entirely before winning the second set (and the match) 7-5; Darcis nearly did something similar. He had a chance to reach match point when Berdych, opting not to chase down a baseline drop shot from Darcis, watched as the ball clipped the tape and landed out. But serving at deuce up 5-4, Darcis' slice backhand got help from the net this time, flying away from Berdych's racquet with the No. 6 seed in good position at net. Holding match point, Darcis finalized the upset when a Berdych backhand went deep.
The loss is Berdych's third in a row on grass; his lone win on the surface in 2012 was against Viktor Troicki in Halle. For Darcis, things continue to look up: He'll face Santiago Giraldo, who beat Ryan Harrison in the opening round, in a very winnable match.