It was some week in tennis. Who would’ve thought Karolina Pliskova would beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the Kuala Lumpur final?
Alright, so maybe that’s not the first thing that popped into your mind. Perhaps you were fixated on the big doings in Dubai, where Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were presented an opportunity to get a piece of each other without Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray lurking in the wings. Or maybe, following your sentimental interest in traditional red clay—I couldn’t have called it that before the advent of blue clay—and more likely Nadal himself, your tournament of choice was Acapulco.
But let’s face it, Pliskova’s breakout in Kuala Lumpur, Monica Niculescu’s triumph in Florianapolis, Nadal’s blowout win in Acapulco, and satisfyingly competitive battles in Dubai as well as the least exotic of these sites, Delray Beach, made for a diverse and colorful week in tennis. Let’s survey it.
Dubai, ATP: This was the blue-ribbon event of the week, with Djokovic and Federer seemingly on a collision course for the final—until Tomas Berdych got in the way. Berdych upset Federer in the semifinals in a match highlighted by Federer’s inability to find the antidote to Berdych’s raw power and, more unexpectedly, the Czech’s outstanding will and nerve. Berdych staved off three match points before finally subduing the all-time Grand Slam singles champion on his third match point, 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Berdych was unable to corral Djokovic in comparable fashion, losing 7-5, 6-3. But he certainly had his chances. In fact, the “old” Berdych re-emerged at some inconvenient times to seal his fate—a double fault pretty much cost him the first set; a smash belted wide cost him the decisive break in the second.
This tournament unfolded quietly (although Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was upset in the first round by Michael Llodra), but the takeaway has significant implications for immediate future. Regardless of the details and score, it was sobering to see Djokovic do what the Swiss could not: Plant his feet and stand firm against the Berdych onslaught, giving as good as he got—in stark contrast to Federer, who looked for the most part like a man on the run.
They used to say that Nadal was in Federer’s head. Perhaps Berdych moved in when Nadal moved out.