ABU DHABI // Six weeks after making his debut at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Tomas Berdych is today set to make his bow at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships.
And he said the quality of the field is such that he feels like he is about to walk back on to the blue court of the O2 Arena rather than the green centre court at Zayed Sports City Tennis Complex.
The Czech, who sits No 6 in the ATP world rankings, qualified for the Tour's season-ending event after impressive displays at Roland Garros and the All-England Club in 2010. Berdych, 25, reached the final four at the French Open and went one step further at Wimbledon, defeating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic en route to the final, where he eventually fell to Rafael Nadal.
Today, Berdych joins a high-profile cast in the capital that includes Federer, Nadal, Robin Soderling and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He starts his campaign against Marcos Baghdatis, the Cypriot.
"In terms of the players involved, it's almost the same as competing in London," Berdych said yesterday, addressing the media for the first time since arriving in the Emirates.
"The first two names we do not need to even talk about and all the others are at least runners-up at grand slams and have enjoyed other good results.
"It's a really strong field, every match will be tough and good and that's exactly what we need to prepare for the start of the season."
The World Tour Finals culminated on November 28 and with the Davis Cup final taking place the following week, the season appears to get longer by the year. Berdych, however, said competitive matches are essential in the run-up to the Australian Open in Melbourne, which starts on January 17.
"This kind of tournament helps a lot," he said. "Of course, the season is long and has many matches, but I finished the season in London and then had one month, almost, without any matches. With the first grand slam so early in the year, it is important to play more matches before then and this is the perfect start. When I got the chance to come here, I took it immediately.
"To compete with the best - Roger, Rafa and all the other guys - is great.
"The only difference between this and an ATP tournament is that, if you lose here, it is not going to be as disappointing because you can treat it as preparation and a chance to experiment. And yet if you win, it gives you the confidence and helps you for the next couple of weeks."
Baghdatis began his 2010 season with a thumping second-round defeat to Berdych in Brisbane, losing 6-0, 6-1, but bounced back to win the Medibank International in Sydney. He reached two more finals during the season and is, next year, following some intensive training, looking for more consistency.
"I had a great season last year and this year I want to be more consistent, get to the second week of grand slams and improve my ranking," said Baghdatis, currently ranked No 20.
"Playing against so many top-10 players this week is a great early opportunity for me and I just need competitive matches now so I can adapt quicker than the other players."