Over the first 10 days of 2017, we're examining the Top 10 players on the ATP and WTA tours—how will they fare during the new season? All of the previews can be found here.
While most players these days defy their age, there are still a few who succumb to it. By the end of the 2016 season, Tomas Berdych was looking like one of the latter. In October, he lost first-round matches to 36th-ranked Gilles Muller, 43rd-ranked Marcel Granollers and 107-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili. That run of futility was enough to get the 31-year-old Czech briefly expelled from the Top 10 for the first time since 2010. Maybe we should have seen it coming: Five months earlier in Rome, Berdych was handed a double bagel by David Goffin; the loss was so embarrassing that Berdych fired his coach, Dani Vallverdu, immediately.
As his Top 10 record attests, Berdych has been a consistently excellent player for a long time, a fact that we tend to forget while we’re watching him squander another seemingly insurmountable lead against Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray. For years, younger players have risen up the rankings, but very few, if any, have proven to be better than Berdych. Yet even that appears to be changing; in 2016, two up-and-comers, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, registered routine wins over him.
Was Berdych’s 2016 swoon a sign of an irrevocable decline to come? Or could working with Goran Ivanisevic give him a boost, the way working with Vallverdu did at the start of 2015? Goran has helped Cilic in the past, but he'll have his work cut out for him with Berdych. Berdych’s quickness and agility have never been his strengths, and one step lost could soon be two. At this stage, it wouldn’t be surprising if mental fatigue had also set in. Berdych is the current holder of tennis’ most backhanded honor, “the best player never to win a major,” but the days when he was a threat at the Slams seem to be waning. He could also be forgiven for not wanting to bang his head on the ceiling known as the Big Four anymore; Berdych is 6-44 against Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and he ended his 2016 season by blowing a 6-1 lead over Murray in a tiebreaker.
While fellow thirtysomethings Nadal and Stan Wawrinka seem poised to improve, or at least hold steady, in 2017, Berdych appears poised to hang on for dear life to his place at the top of the sport.