Tomas Berdych led Novak Djokovic 6-3 in the first-set tiebreaker of their quarterfinal on Friday evening in Toronto. Berdych had two serves coming, and a morose Djokovic, who had blown a 5-3 lead earlier in the set and made twice as many errors as winners, looked ready to throw in the towel and start over in the second. Over the previous 15 minutes, the world No. 1 had lost his timing completely; some of his serves were barely breaking the 70-m.p.h. mark.

I think you know what happened next.

Berdych began by double faulting. A bad sign, certainly, but when he followed it with a nice sliding first ball out wide into the deuce court, it looked like everything would be OK. Except that Djokovic, who was in stand-and-deliver mode, delivered one of his patented full-stretch service returns to within an inch of the baseline. Berdych, handcuffed, flipped a forehand into the net.

Worst of all, and most predictable of all, was what happened next: Up 6-5, with one more set point, Berdych watched as Djokovic tossed a weak second serve into the middle of the box. But rather than move up to pummel it, Berdych froze, reached out for the ball and sent his backhand return sailing long. It was 6-6 in the first-set tiebreaker, but the match was essentially over.

Bird Song

Bird Song

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The final score, if you need to know it, was 7-6 (6), 6-4. Berdych hit nine aces to Djokovic’s three, 30 winners to Djokovic’s 14 and had eight break points to Djokovic’s four. But he could only convert one of them. These stats tell the story of the match and, in the eyes of history, they could probably tell the story of Berdych’s tennis life.

That story, sadly and unfairly, is largely about losing. Berdych is now 2-25 against Djokovic. This year he had already lost to him in the quarters in Miami and the quarters in Paris. Last year he lost to him in London, Bercy, Monte Carlo and Dubai. The news is almost as dismal with Rafael Nadal; Berdych is 4-19 against Rafa, and went nine years without beating him. Berdych began 2016 with a 47-109 record against Top 10 opponents.

It’s rare that you can see a top player second-guess himself on a stroke, but you could see it on Friday when Berdych set up for an easy forehand at break point against Djokovic. He started one way with his body, changed his mind, went the other way with his arm and drilled the ball into the net. Against no other opponent would that have happened to him.

And yet there's something else you should know about Berdych, something that doesn't get mentioned much: He’s an incredible tennis player. I knew it the first time I saw him, on a side court at the U.S. Open in 2003, when he was a 17-year-old making his Grand Slam debut. The word was out that this big teen Czech was the real thing, and it was easy to see from up close that the word was right. I’d never seen a player as tall as Berdych (he’s 6’5) hit so smoothly, consistently and with such easy power from the baseline—the long extension on both of his ground strokes was a thing of technical beauty. When he upset Roger Federer at the Athens Olympics the next summer, I thought he would surely be a Slam champion sooner rather than later.

That’s not how it turned out, of course. It turned out that Berdych’s height, and semi-stiff movement, really was a liability. The Big Four were a little shorter, a lot more flexible physically and a lot less fragile mentally, and that has made all the difference.

Bird Song

Bird Song

Yet, as I said, by all mortal measures Berdych’s career has been a tremendous success. He’s won 12 titles, 572 matches, two Davis Cups and is in the select group of men who have reached the semis or better at all four majors. Most impressive is Berdych’s underrated relentlessness: This will likely be the seventh straight season in which he finishes in the Top 10. Over the years, he has taken on the young guns of multiple ATP generations and, in most cases, come out the winner. After all these years, he still has the bigger guns.

Each season, Berdych endures a slump that makes me think his decline is finally upon us; each year he crawls out of it again. This spring, he lost love and love to David Goffin and fired his coach; by the summer, he was in the semis at Wimbledon. Along the way, Berdych knocked off two of this season’s celebrated new faces, Lucas Pouille and Alexander Zverev, with the loss of just one set. The tour keeps promoting the #NextGen, but it’s Berdych who keeps beating them on his way to the late rounds. And from up close, his game has lost none of its awesomely easy power or technical beauty.

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Bird Song

Bird Song

This isn’t to say that losing won’t be a major part of the Berdych story when all is said and done; he may go down as this generation’s best player never to win a major. By now, defeat at a certain point is expected. We knew what was going to happen against Djokovic on Friday, and judging by the pained way Berdych stared over at his box after squandering break points, he had a pretty good idea of what was coming, too.

The most important truth is that Berdych is a great tennis player. The sad part of that truth may be that he was merely great.