It was a long time in between the Czech’s championships, both of which came indoors: Cilic was suspended for a doping violation and reinstated; Berdych reached the Australian Open semifinals while somehow avoiding suspension for a shirt better suited for soccer.
You wouldn’t have known it based on today’s final. Berdych showed no evidence of nerves at any point, even during his first service game, one of the only intervals in which Cilic made inroads. The Croat earned break points, but Berdych had hardly settled into the match by then. Once he did, the tide shifted quickly and completely. Berdych rolled through service games with surprising ease, considering his opponent, and the second set looked more practice session than tournament final.
Cilic, who won a tournament last week in Zagreb, had a lot to do with that. While certainly able to keep up with Berdych’s pace and reply with his own heavy shotmaking, point-ending errors often came from Cilic’s frame. More points were lost than truly won, it seemed, though Berdych deserves substantial credit for interrogating Cilic with not only his laser-like forehand but his cross-court backhand. The yellow-green sphere is less a tennis ball than a projectile when Berdych is at his best, even if he didn’t have to be against a perhaps fatigued Cilic.
I thought Tennis Channel’s Rennae Stubbs put it best, commenting on Cilic’s stubble: “He just looks a little more exhausted than Berdych.”
Cilic looked worse for wear as the match wore on. He was broken in the first game of the second set to fall behind early yet again (Berdych broke for a 2-1 lead in the first set) and never recovered. The dangerous world No. 37 never earned a break point in the second set and incredibly won just two of 18 return points. His serving wasn’t much better: Cilic landed barely more than half of his first serves (52 percent) and won just three of 11 second serve points in set two.
The final one was the final straw: With a double-fault, Cilic handed Berdych a double-break lead, and essentially the Rotterdam title.