A duel of dipping slice backhands escalated into the longest rally of the second set when Andy Murray casually came under a drop shot that cleared the net with the weight of a whisper. That sleight-of-hand mischief caused Tomas Berdych to recoil briefly. Then Berdych got back to business driving the ball into the corners and displacing Murray in the process. Berdych reeled off 11 straight points midway through the second set to dispatch Murray, 7-6 (3), 6-4, and advance to the Madrid semifinals for the second straight year.
Murray, who will surpass Roger Federer and regain the world No. 2 ranking on Monday, befuddled the 2012 finalist at times and finished with one more winner and one fewer error. But Berdych played bolder tennis on crucial points, stepped into the court more frequently, and forced Murray to defend on the run when it mattered most.
The pair split eight prior meetings, and tension arrived immediately as Berdych hit a bold forehand swing volley to save break point in a seven-minute, opening-game hold. Murray is such a stealth presence around net; it’s a pity he doesn’t ply his soft hands more often there. The Scot slid a soft forehand volley winner down the line to hold at 15 for 2-2. Murray won six of six trips to net; Berdych was 17 of 33 in the front court.
The third seed pushed Berdych to the break-point ledge four times in the ninth game, but the seventh seed had an answer each time. Berdych hit an audacious second serve that jumped out wide to save the fourth break point, trampled the line with an inside-out forehand winner, then completed a hard-fought hold with a serve winner to edge in front, 5-4. Murray slammed successive aces to close a love hold; two games later, another ace ended another shutout hold as he forced a tiebreaker.
Berdych asserted his game in the breaker: A backhand volley winner and flat forehand return down the line gave him a 5-1 lead, and he sealed the 69-minute first set when Murray’s backhand sailed out. Berdych's ability to strike down the line was key.
Ratcheting up the pressure, Berdych continued to step forward behind his forehand, drawing an errant forehand down the line to break for a 1-0 second-set advantage. Digging in, Murray saved a pair of break points and curled a leaping forehand winner up the line to hold for 2-1. Berdych fought off break points in the ensuing game, hitting a whipping swing-volley winner to save the second, eventually digging out a six-minute hold for 2-2.
Ruing lost opportunity, a cranky Murray rushed his way through a sloppy fifth game, arming a backhand well wide to face triple break point and gifting the break at love by banging a backhand off the top of the tape. That lapse may have been part of a mental hangover—Murray needed six match points and nearly three hours to subdue Gilles Simon in a match that ended at 1:15 a.m. local time—and he looked haunted by more blown opportunities today.
But Berdych just grew stronger from struggle, winning 11 consecutive points to build a 4-2 lead before Murray stopped the skid. Berdych played superb defense at times to work his way back into points, bent low to confront Murray’s slithering slice backhand, and saved seven of nine break points in a two-hour, two-minute win. Berdych will face seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or 15th-seeded Stan Wawrinka for a spot in the final.