“I know how to beat him – I have done it before.” So said Tomas Berdych before his quarter-final against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon 2013.
The Czech had indeed done it before, twice in their 15 previous career encounters – here in the semi-finals three years ago, in a defeat which presaged Djokovic’s transformation into a multiple Grand Slam champion, and then again two months ago in Rome, with just the 11 defeats in between. But it is one thing to vanquish the world No.1, and quite another to imagine this means you therefore “know how to beat him”.
Alas, it was Berdych himself who proved that in this 14th career rout at the hands of the Serb.
The scoreline did not look that extraordinary, in the scheme of things – Djokovic won 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-3 to reach his 13th consecutive Grand Slam semi-final. It was no disgrace, given that no other player has been able to unburden Djokovic of a set so far this Wimbledon.
But actually the hidden story is that Berdych was within a trice of being a set and a double break up.
In that first set, his tennis was simply superb – and it needed to be, given that Djokovic made just two unforced errors. Four times Djokovic held break point, and four times the Czech would not yield.
It seemed symbolic at 4-4 when Berdych outplayed him in a 29-stroke rally which left Djokovic sliding into the splits as he unsuccessfully attempted to change direction.
But at the business end of the tie-break Berdych could not capitalise on successive second serves, leaving him set point down whereupon he punched a forehand wide.
Every key statistic in the set was in Djokovic’s favour, yet it felt overwhelmingly like a lucky escape for the world No.1.
Perhaps he took a breather at the start of the second, because within minutes he was – astonishingly – two breaks down, thus equalling the entire number of breaks he had previously experienced this Wimbledon.
Berdych was racing off with the set, and it looked like the match was alive and well. But at that moment it was as if Berdych caught sight of his own reflection and took fright. Unforced errors crowded his tennis as Djokovic levelled it.
The set concluded with a horrible Berdych volley into the net, and at that moment there was no pretending then that the match was anything but over.
Djokovic broke in the third for 3-1, but it all felt like a formality. Berdych was an utterly different player to the resilient figure from the long-distant first set, who had baffled Djokovic by finding another ball in every rally, and left the world No.1 sprawled ignominiously on the turf.
Perhaps Berdych is not quite so sure now that he “knows how to beat” Djokovic after all.
“Three years, it’s a long time,” sighed Berdych, referring to his 2010 win over Djokovic. “Actually, I’m not following him, what he’s doing, what he’s practising, how he is. But if you follow tennis a little bit you can see he’s doing quite well. He didn’t start the second set that well this time, but it was all me [losing focus]. I didn’t start the game well with new balls. I started with a double and it kept going bad. Of course I can play better than I did in this match. If you give him too much, it’s a lot. You have to play really on the limit to have a chance to beat him. That was not the case this time. Once you give him a chance, he just takes it back.”
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all