It was close, very close. And for long periods of times, it seemed as if the match was on Tomas Berdych’s racket. But, as was the case with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer yesterday, the best of the best often finds a way to win even when it seems improbable.
And if they don’t find a way to win, their opponents will find it for them, as was the case with Mardy Fish yesterday, when he folded in the tiebreak. Also, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga aided Federer with a few crucial errors at 4-5 in the third, and then Berdych today.
Today, Tomas Berdych seemed in absolute control, when he raced to a 4-0 lead in the first, dominating Djokovic with big forehands and big serves, before Djokovic started edging his way into the match. Berdych closed out the set 6-3, but Novak got an early break in the second that he never surrendered.
For stretches, Robo-Novak was back, hitting down-the-line backhands and drop-shots at will. When Berdych seemed dangerously close in the second, Djokovic served it out with two, clean down-the-line winners followed by two aces for a clean hold and the second set.
The third set started with Djokovic winning another few service games with ease, whereas Berdych was struggling more with his. It seemed only a matter of time, before Djokovic would earn the deciding break.
Then instead, Berdych found his first set form again and hit some massive forehand winners on the line to go up 4-2. As in the first set, it seemed his match to lose.
What followed was as bad from Berdych’s side as the former game was good. Two double-faults and a forehand in the net gave Djokovic the break back. Yet, this didn’t derail Berdych, and he held his ensuing two games for love.
Berdych had Djokovic on the ropes and hit some quality forehands down the line for clean winners. He even earned a match point at 5-6, but when he tried to hit another forehand down the line, he hit it in the net. Djokovic had to come up with his best defense to stay in the match, which he did.
The tiebreak was more about Berdych’s mistakes than Djokovic’s winners. As good as Berdych had been since 3-2 in the third, his tie-break was bad—or unlucky.
He missed an inside-out forehand by an inch, and then he made an awful forehand smash at the net that he sent meters wide. Before he knew it, he was down 1-5.
He earned his way back to 5-3 and almost 5-4, but he missed another forehand, this time cross-court, by an inch. Three match points to Djokovic, who took the first with a big first serve that Berdych put in the net with his backhand.
The small margins tend to be with the best players. That was no different today and no different yesterday. Perhaps Berdych got tight.
Fish certainly did. It is both a result of them being in those situations less often than the top players and perhaps also simply the fear-factor that the Big Three still have over many of their opponents.
In his on-court interview, Djokovic admitted he got lucky today.
"For most of the match, he was the better player. I was hanging in and in the end he was unlucky with a couple of shots."
The stats, 17 winners to 33 unforced errors for Djokovic and 32-42 for Berdych, don’t tell the story of the match. This was a high-quality match, the best in the tournament so far I would say, with some amazing shot-making and rallies from both players.
Nevertheless, Djokovic wasn’t satisfied with his performance and feels he needs to step it up if he wants to win the tournament. He attributed part of that to Berdych’s power, which makes it difficult to do that much against him, when he is on.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all got through their first matches, but it got a lot tighter than many of us expected. Perhaps Federer was right when he said every player in the field was capable of winning it.
Novak repeated that statement in his press conference after the match, when he said that, "though I might be the favorite on paper, the chances are more or less the same for both of us to win tonight, because I haven’t been playing my best in maybe a month and a half. You cannot underestimate anyone. That is why the tournament is so important to all of us."
As Fish, Tsonga, Berdych and David Ferrer have all proved the past two days, you certainly cannot underestimate anyone. Still, with three wins, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal all have a small edge going forward and Ferrer is with them in that respect.