Tomas Berdych - Swiss Indoors Basel - Day Two

Tipsarevic vs. Berdych:  Twice during his tense duel with Djokovic, Berdych edged to the verge of a victory that would have positioned him auspiciously for a semifinal appearance.  With the world #1 far from his suffocating self, the Czech stood within two points of triumph at 4-5 in the third set and within one point at 5-6.  Both times, unsightly unforced errors squandered the opportunities, most notably a wayward forehand on match point that wandered outside the line had it crossed the net—which it didn’t.  A sloppy tiebreak later, Berdych finds himself without margin for error and with a familiar nemesis across the net in another Serb.  Toppling the Czech in four of their five previous meetings, Tipsarevic replaced the injured Murray, ironically an opponent whom Berdych probably would have preferred despite his higher ranking.

A tribute to sport’s mental dimension, the second-ranked Serb’s dominance over the top-ranked Czech perplexes when one considers the latter’s superior firepower on serve and groundstrokes.  Shorter and more compact, Tipsarevic covers the court more efficiently than the lanky Berdych, but movement alone does not win matches on the slick surfaces where they have clashed.  Instead, the world #9 simply has exuded more competitive desire than the world #7, diffident too often in his underachieving career.  Inspired by the feats of his compatriot, Tipsarevic in fact has overachieved considering his limited talents by reaching the top 10.  As his Slam upsets over Roddick and near-upset over Federer attest, the Serb habitually rises to the occasion when the spotlight shines most brightly.  Although he never has appeared at the World Tour Finals, his mental fiber should not buckle in his unfamiliar surroundings.  Since he missed only one round-robin match, Tipsarevic still theoretically could advance

While Berdych favors a more straightforward, programmatic approach to the game, his quirky opponent often eschews the tennis textbook for spontaneity.  Only if his streaky serve stays steady, though, can Tipsarevic compensate for the Czech’s superior weight of shot from the baseline.  Against an opponent who can scramble with abandon, Berdych will want not only to stretch the court but to follow his forehands or even some serves to the net.  That strategy aided him in securing his first career victory over Tipsarevic in Paris.  Although it earned him less success against Djokovic on Monday, the Czech should remember that not all Serbs thread their passing shots so expertly.  Across the net, Tipsarevic should aim to redirect his groundstrokes, since Berdych becomes much less dangerous when he leans in the wrong direction or fails to set his feet properly.  In a match between two baseliners with generally similar styles, execution should prove more decisive than strategy.

Djokovic vs. Ferrer:  Moping and seemingly resigned for much of his first London match, the world #1 proved how far he towers above most of his competition by defeating a top-eight opponent with (for him) a mediocre performance.  Much less explosive and much more erratic than for most of 2011, Djokovic won mostly by staying alert to prey upon his opponent’s nerves when they arose at the climactic tiebreak.  Two or three years ago, he probably would have lost this match in straight sets or when Berdych surged forward by a break in the third, but comebacks have grown routine for him in a year that has ranged from the implausible to the surreal.  With his most difficult match of the round-robin phase behind him, Djokovic likely will score the crucial second win over an obliging Tipsarevic on Friday.  Before then, though, the Serb faces the unexpected leader of a group that also once included  the recently scorching Murray.

Only once has Djokovic lost to Ferrer in six hard-court meetings, relying upon his far superior serve and somewhat superior return to seize control of points immediately.  The most tenacious workhorse in the ATP, the fifth-ranked man normally requires greater effort to win rallies after starting many of them on neutral terms.  But observers such as ourselves envisioned Ferrer’s Monday meeting with Murray in parallel terms, anticipating an uneventful passage for the local favorite.  What unfolded instead was an uneventful passage for the Spaniard, or at least as uneventful a passage as his strenuous style of endless baseline exchanges permits.  In fine fettle since the US Open, Ferrer reached two semifinals and a final during a fall season that normally doesn’t welcome most players who have forged their reputations from the red clay of spring.  An indefatigable man for all seasons, he arrived in London seemingly untroubled by either fatigue or the specter of his disaster in the O2 Arena last year.

Eager to profit from Murray’s accumulating injuries, Ferrer could repeat that ambush against a physically and mentally weary Djokovic.  Observers might recall their meeting at the year-end championships four years ago, when the Spanish retriever sank his teeth into a staggering Serb during the first appearance at this tournament by both players.  As Murray discovered in the seemingly endless sequence of rallies, Ferrer can make even a fast court feel very slow indeed through his keen anticipation and instincts.  On the other hand, Djokovic can project more firepower on both groundstrokes than can the Scot, so a technically and tactically crisp effort would smother the Spaniard.  Even when they met during the Spring of the Serb this May, though, Ferrer managed to mire the future #1 in the grinding style that he prefers.

The initial stages of the match might prove critical in setting the tone.  If the world #5 claims an early lead, as Berdych did, he won’t let it disappear without a struggle for which his opponent may not have the appetite.  But he will lack an answer if Djokovic delivers a performance worthy of his stature.  Like a blank canvas, Ferrer allows opponents to paint an image of their choosing on his matches.