June 30, 2010 -- You have to figure that Roger Federer resents Tomas Berdych. He defeated Federer at the 2004 Athens Olympics, stealing the Gold Medal from an expectant Federer. Today, Berdych snatched away the chance for Federer to win his seventh Wimbledon title at his beloved home away from home. His loss today marks the first time since 2002 that Federer will not play in the final.
"I don't think I played him poorly," Federer said. "But, I think he went after it."
Precisely... Tomas Berdych came out firing. He planned to play aggressively; and, he was rewarded for his execution.
"There was my key to go to the match like the way I did," Berdych said. "I'm very happy with my performance today. I was playing really well."
Federer couldn't produce the type of tennis the world has seen from him at important moments. He set up points beautifully and missed put-away shots. His lethal forehand misfired time after time. When he got a look at a second serve, he returned weakly. And, Berdych didn't give Federer the rhythm he loves so much. Instead he went for his shots.
In the sixth game of the fourth set Federer was poised to slow the clip of the match. He held four break points on Berdych's serve. But, Federer couldn't convert one. For the match he was one for eight in break point conversions, which made the difference in the score. On all other fronts, Federer played well.
In the last game of the match Berdych went from match point to break point, giving Fed fans a reason to cheer.
"I would say through all my career matches, this one was the toughest one to close up the match against Roger [on] Centre Court in Wimbledon," Berdych admitted. "It was a really close match, about a few points. This day just went on my side."
Roger Federer is known for his sportsmanship. He hasn't made much of a fuss on court, any court, during a match of this magnitude. However, in his press conference he said his back and leg have been a problem since the final in Halle, Germany, which he lost to Lleyton Hewitt.
"I couldn't play the way I wanted to play," Federer began. "I am struggling with a little bit of a back and leg issue. That just doesn't quite allow me to play the way I would like to play -- completely free."
Federer said he had been feeling the effects of the injury since the first round, which he nearly lost to Alejandro Falla.
"After the first match my back started to hurt. After the second match my [right] leg started to hurt," Federer told the BBC.
He added that he played well against Jurgen Melzer because he rested on Middle Sunday.
"If there's anything good about this match today, it's I'm going to get some rest, that's for sure."
People have waited years for Tomas Berdych to fill the tennis shoes they had lain out for him. When he beat Federer at the 2004 Olympics, he was 19. He is now 24 and seems to be moving rapidly toward his potential.
The last time Berdych lost to Federer was in Melbourne Park at this year's Australian Open. The Czech was up two sets and a break, but lost in five. His three set win over Federer at the Sony Ericsson Open in March surely must have elevated his self-belief and his sense of vindication. His semifinal match, which he lost, against Robin Soderling at Roland Garros gave Berdych even more confidence.
Berdych teamed with his new coach, Czech Tomas Krupa, in January. At the time, Berdych had reached the quarterfinal of a major once. He had fallen behind his contemporaries such as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
"We have to improve [his] condition and volleys," Krupa said in an interview in Melbourne this past January. "[His] game should be more aggressive and variable."
With his berth in the semifinals at Wimbledon, one can only surmise that their relationship is a good one.
Berdych will meet the #4 seed Novak Djokovic on Friday. If the Serb performs anything close to what fans saw today, Berdych will have his hands full.
Djokovic showed us his former self -- intense and feisty -- against Yen-Hsun Lu. The Serbian played to win. He didn't hang around and wait for his opponent to make errors. He slid into shots, as if the grass had magically changed to red clay. He hit deft drop shots and volleys. He served well.
Maybe it was his Goran-Ivanisevic-shirt-ripping incident after he defeated Hewitt in the previous round that stoked #3 seed's engine. Whatever it was, Djokovic was pleased with himself.
"It's really refreshing to perform this way," he said. "I was struggling with the level of my performance throughout the last five, six months. It was a lot of ups and downs. But right now I'm playing great. It definitely makes me happy."
Yen-Hsun Lu congratulated Novak on his win today. The Chinese Taipei native tried his best, but was pressured by his opponent who moved him around the court like a puppeteer.
"He control the match, control the points," Lu said. "I try to raise my level. Also I try to hit harder, and I start to miss. I play some good point, but he's making me like I have no chance, no idea how I can change strategy to play him. So I think I only can say he's better; he's better than me."
Djokovic and Berdych met last in 2009 at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Miami, which Djokovic won in straights. Prior to that, they met in Bangkok. Djokovic won that match, too.
"He's a big server and has powerful groundstrokes," Novak said about Berdych. "His weapon is his forehand. He's got some great results in last couple of months. So he's one of the toughest players to play against lately. I'm going to have to be patient and wait for the chances."
Djokovic won his only major -- The Australian Open -- three years ago. Berdych has never been to the final of a major.
"Berdych won against Roger in four sets," Djokovic said. "We cannot forget that. He's going to go for the shots. He has not much to lose. He's going to be motivated. So there's no favorites, I guess.
With both men in top form, it will be the one with the mental agility to move through the match, absorb its ups and downs in, and close it up tight.
The two other quarterfinals started with the #2 and #4 seeds down a set.
Robin Soderling had Rafael Nadal dead to rights at 5-love before Rafa came alive and sent the Swede to cooler climes in four sets. Andy Murray hadn't dropped a set the entire tournament until he lost the first-set tiebreak to Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. The Frenchman was a point away from taking the second set, too, until unforced errors flipped the results. Murray closed the match in four, serving lights out as the match progressed.
Nadal turned around his match at the start of the second set, when the chair umpire Pascual Maria overruled a line call that originally had gone against Soderling. It was 30-all. The reversal affected Nadal, but in a positive way.
"After the first game of the second set, everything change," Nadal said. "After, I think I played a great match."
Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are no strangers on court. They have met ten times, the last being this year at The Australian Open. Nadal retired in the third set down 0-3. It was the only time in his career that he retired from a match.
Interestingly, Nadal dominated the Scot 5-0 over the first five matches they played. But over the last five, Murray has had a higher winning percentage. Their playing styles are miles apart -- Nadal the aggressor and Murray the defender. Both men know they have to serve well.
The large looming question for Murray is -- Can he hold himself together mentally while Great Britain watches his every stroke? He hasn't made it past the semifinal at Wimbledon, and he lost to Roger Federer in the finals at The Australian Open this year.
His default defender style has kept him from reaching the pinnacles of tennis, namely any major. Wimbledon, for sure, applies more pressure on Murray, although he denies it.
"It doesn't affect the way that I play," Murray said. "It's not something that you're thinking about on the court at all."
The last British male to win Wimbledon was Fred Perry way back in 1937. Knowing the British press's obsession with Murray mania, he might want to keep his head away from a newsstand.
The Rules Are The Rules --
Raphael Nadal was charged $2,000 by Wimbledon officials for a coaching violation, during his match with Philipp Petzschner. Nadal wasn't happy with the accusation, but in the end said, "The rules are the rules."
On the flip side, Justine Henin wasn't charged for a coaching violation as she played Kim Clijsters. Anyone with a television screen, computer monitor or Blackberry could watch Carlos Rodriguez, Henin's coach, mouth 'her forehand, her forehand,' at least once during that match. Henin looked up at him every single time she completed a point, as she always does. To have charged Nadal and not Henin seems odd and unfair.
And... Andy Murray wasn't warned about his foul language today. It spewed from him when he fumbled a shot, thought Tsonga had gotten away with something that the Scot felt was beneath him. I guess they have to be 'audible.' Murray must tone it down when he's within earshot of the chair.