Berdych booms, but yet to Czech in at majors
Tomas Berdych had an impressive outing in 2010, finishing the year at No 6 but without a title for his efforts. The Czech is now looking for the elusive major this year, starting with the Australian Open, writes Bikash Mohapatra.
When a player finishes the year ranked No 6, it is logical to assume that he has won a few titles in that period and put in a series of good performances.
Tomas Berdych's case is a bit different.
The Czech's career-high ranking was achieved despite the fact that he failed to win a single tour title in 2010. In fact, the 25-year-old has failed to add to his trophy cabinet since May 2009, when he won a fifth career title at Munich.
With regard to good performances, there were quite a few, something that explains his high ranking to an extent.
A run to the final at the Miami Masters in March was followed by an unlikely semi-final appearance at the French Open -- his best run in a major till that point.
Then came the icing on the cake. In July, Berdych secured himself a first appearance in a major final, albeit an unexpected one. His place in the final of the prestigious All England Championships at Wimbledon came at the expense of six-time champion Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
And though he came up second best to Rafael Nadal in the final, it was an experience to cherish for the Czech.
"As you mentioned, in two big tournaments I was playing in the final and I couldn't win even one set; but, on the positive side, I reached my first Grand Slam final," explained Berdych.
"Of course, it is disappointing every time you lose in a final. But, on the other hand, it was also a great result," he continued, adding, "Hopefully, this year I can reach similar results and maybe even do better."
Image: Tomas Berdych
'Nadal deserves to be the world number one'
The Wimbledon final apart, Nadal seemed to have become his nemesis otherwise. This is a tad surprising considering the fact that Berdych had a 3-1 advantage over the Spaniard in their first four meetings.
The Czech has since lost eight successive matches to the world No.1, to reduce his career win-loss record against Nadal to a poor 3-9. And what rankles further is the fact that he failed to win even a set in each of those eight defeats.
Asked the reason for his repeated failures against the Spaniard, the Czech player came up with a very pertinent response.
"He (Nadal) right now deserves to be the world number one," said Berdych, adding, "He is playing some great tennis. Winning three Grand Slam titles in one season is a great achievement by all means.
"And from my point of view he is the one who has improved the most among the top players -- he now has a better serve, is more aggressive and has a solid all-round game."
Having said that, Berdych believes he can still get his act right against the Spaniard.
"It is really tough to keep up with him and you can't beat him every time. The fact that he is left-handed makes it more difficult for me," admitted the Czech, before adding, "Maybe once I can do better and beat him again.
"I had a pretty good chance in Abu Dhabi (an exhibition event), with break-points in the first set. But he played some unbelievable tennis thereafter."
Image: Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych with their Wimbledon trophies
'Beating Federer in the Centre Court at Wimbledon was special'
Berdych might struggle against Nadal.
However, he seemed to have got the measure of Roger Federer, beating the Swiss player twice in succession last year before losing a close three-setter in Toronto.
"It is a great feeling to beat Federer," admitted the Czech, adding, "I was very close to beating him three straight times, but lost a close match (7-6) in the third.
"However, the two others I won were great matches. The first one in Miami was really close and I was kind a lucky, as I was a match point down and just managed to get it across.
"And then the other one was a really great moment for me -- beating him on Centre Court at Wimbledon was really a great feeling. And I have fantastic memories from that match."
Image: Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer
'I take it as a challenge to maintain my ranking'
Having had a great year, Berdych made an early start to 2011. So how was his preparation in the off season?
"I was enjoying some free time," confessed the Czech, adding, "Because I had pretty much two seasons in a row, as the year before we played in the Davis Cup final.
"There wasn't much time to rest in between. So this year I ensured it was a good balance of some rest and practice."
Now that he is a top-ranked player, had he changed his approach a bit?
"The only thing that changes is regarding planning the schedule," explained Berdych, adding, "The important thing now will be to plan the number of weeks I play in advance, as I need stay healthy and fit and be prepared every time I am on court."
The 25-year-old is aware of the pressure that accompanies his high rank.
"Everyone who will play against me now will try to give his best, as he has nothing to lose. So I have to stay focused. I hope I can do that. I worked hard to get to this position last year. I take it as a new challenge to maintain my ranking this year. I am looking forward to it."
Image: Tomas Berdych
'I have nice memories of my visit to Mumbai in 2006'
When one last met Berdych -- at the Mumbai Open in 2006 -- he seemed an introvert. Now he has opened up much more.
Memories of his maiden voyage to India though remain afresh in his mind.
"Yeah, I have nice memories when I visited Mumbai in 2006," recollected Berdych, adding, "I was in the final and lost 7-6 in the third (to Dmitry Tursunov).
"However, a final is apretty solid result and I am also happy with the way I played in this tournament."
Asked how much he has changed as a player in the last five years, his reply was measured.
"I've changed quite a lot since then," he said, before proceeding to explain.
"It's been four years and every player changes with time, and gains more experience. So I can say I am a much better player now than I was back then."
Image: Tomas Berdych
'I would like to win at Wimbledon'
Having reached a first major final, the next step for a player is palpably to try and win the trophy that eluded him on that occasion.
So where does Berdych think he has the best chance of winning a major title?
"Since I am going to play first in Melbourne, I would like my chances there," said the Czech.
An elaborate explanation followed.
"However, it is tough to say. Last year, my first major semi-final appearance came on the clay courts of Paris. It was never expected.
"Then came that final at Wimbledon. So you basically can't choose one."
However, just when one was starting to wind up, came the choice.
"If I do get a chance, I would like to win at London first."
Image: Tomas Berdych