NEW YORK—The best thing I can say about the fourth-round match between No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych and Austrian wunderkind Dominic Thiem is that it was over quickly. How many matches at this stage of a Slam can you recall in which a player fell just one point short of winning two sets in under an hour?
That’s what happened tonight on Louis Armstrong Stadium, as Berdych routed Thiem in an hour and 38 minutes, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. One theory that might explain this savage beatdown is that both men watched the preceding match on Armstrong—a knock-down, drag-out, five-set clash between Gilles Simon and Marin Cilic—and decided that they wanted no part of anything like that four-hour and 13-minute marathon.
Those first two sets were as ugly as they were quick, as Berdych relentlessly targeted Thiem’s backhand, a shot that the 20-year-old prefers to hit with slice. Time after time, Berdych blasted away with his forehand, pushing Thiem further and further back—and deeper and deeper into a hole. The difference between Thiem’s aggressive forehand and backhand is so pronounced, though, that when Berdych did probe the forehand, Thiem was too eager capitalize on his weapon. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the tennis book: Attack an opponent’s weakness, then switch and test his strength. It’s sadistic, which is the point.
Oddly enough, Thiem had three break points in the very first game, and seven in the first set. He converted none. Berdych, meanwhile, converted four of his seven break chances over the course of the first two sets. By the end of the second set, Berdych had won 57 points to Thiem’s 37, and while Berdych won 55 percent of his second-serve points, Thiem won just a measly 20 percent of his own.
The only bright spot to that point? Neither of these fellas was holding anything back. Dominant as Berdych was, he made just seven more winners over those first two sets (17-10) and just six fewer unforced errors (15-21). This was slam-bang tennis at its best—or worst?
Thiem did not give up after those first two sets, you have to give him that. But Berdych broke him in the fifth game of the third set, then rolled to the win with no interruptions. Berdych almost apologetically volunteered a bit of analysis in his post-match interview with Mal Washington, explaining: “I have something to say, I know what I am talking about. When you are down 0-40 in the very first game and you win it, it gives you an extra boost.”
This was the first meeting between the promising youngster and the Czech. I’m thinking Thiem is hoping that if he meets Berdych again, it will be in a Starbucks.