Australian Open: Djokovic d. Berdych

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MELBOURNE—Efficiency appeared to be the watchword of the evening for Novak Djokovic. No reason to repeat the late-night, shirt-ripping theatrics of his five-hour win over Stan Wawrinka, as entertaining as they might have been. With a reliable pair of silver sneakers under him this time, Djokovic began as crisply tonight as he had sluggishly on Sunday. 

He broke Tomas Berdych in the third game of the match with a sweetly struck backhand winner down the line, and there was more where that came from. Djokovic held with a forehand winner for 3-1 and pummeled Berdych with deep service returns to break again. The 6-1 first set was over in 28 minutes.

Berdych had vowed beforehand to try to pressure Djokovic, a man who had beaten him 11 of the 12 times they had met. He couldn’t put anything together in the first set, but that changed right away in the second. The Czech went on the attack in Djokovic’s opening service game, and broke with a forehand winner. Serving big when he needed to—Berdych hit aces on two game points—and continuing to go after his forehand, he held onto his lead without facing a service break until 5-4. 

Djokovic, annoyed at losing command of a match he wanted to keep under lock and key, had been gaining ground as the set progressed. He made his move at 4-5, reaching break point four times. But Berdych, in what must rank as one of the best pressure stands against a top-flight player of his career, was up to the challenge. He painted the sideline to wipe away two of those break points, and hit an ace on a third. When Djokovic shanked a forehand pass on set point, fans in the arena roared. It appeared, for a few seconds, that we might be heading into another all-night war.

It didn’t take long for everyone, including Berdych, to realize that it wasn’t in the cards tonight. Djokovic came out in the third set with bug-eyed determination, and Berdych had no more answers—how many times could he save himself by putting the ball on the line? At 1-0, Djokovic got to break point with a brilliant topspin lob; when Berdych missed a forehand at 30-40, the edge went back out of the match as quickly as it had come in. Djokovic ran away to a 6-1 third set win and broke Berdych early in the fourth. But credit the Czech for hanging around and making Djokovic close it out. Berdych, running as fast and scrambling as hard as I’ve ever seen him, saved three match points in Djokovic’s final service game, but he could never push it to break point. Djokovic, befitting a No. 1, terminated the proceedings with an ace and moved onto to his 11 straight Grand Slam semifinal, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Berdych, despite his improvement, his Davis Cup title, and his slow-growing consistency, was again left a couple of steps and a few mistakes short of one of the Top 4. He made 43 errors and hit 31 winners, and could only produce four break points in the match (he converted one). If you look at total points won, he was blown out: Berdych ended with 86 to Djokovic’s 118. 

Djokovic was impressive, especially with the forehand, which he hit with much more confidence than he had against Wawrinka. He finished with 20 winners from that side, and he used it to yank Berdych from one corner to the other. He was also in total control of his serve for most of the night; in one fourth-set stretch, he won 16 of 17 points on serve, and he finished with 10 aces.

Djokovic marches on to play David Ferrer. He said after the match that Ferrer was “one of the most respected guys on the tour.” Djokovic himself had so much respect for him here last year that he made sure to straight set him in the quarterfinals. If today's form holds in their semifinal on Thursday, what are the chances the result will be any different this time?

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