x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Dubai quarter-finalist Berdych waiting to hit big time

The Czech is through to the last eight stage after a straight-sets win over Davydenko and where Petzschner awaits for the big hitter.

Tomas Berdych plays a shot during his win over Nikolay Davydenko in Dubai yesterday.
Tomas Berdych plays a shot during his win over Nikolay Davydenko in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // When Roger Federer was asked earlier this week about his thoughts on some cynical tennis followers' belief that the men's singles game is dominated, much like in English football's Premier League, by a "top four" hierarchy, the 16-time grand slam winner quickly denounced such a theory as foolish.

"Top five," he corrected the questioner, intimating that Robin Soderling, the powerful Swede, should be included alongside himself, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in any pool of the game's most consistent performers.

Any sport that suffers a pyramidical system, where an elite few fight at the top and everyone else battles to be first of the also-rans, threatens to belittle the competition as a spectacle.

When it comes to tennis, however, there are two schools of thought.

While Federer was quick to add that players such as Andy Roddick should not be forgotten about and that "there are many other exciting players right behind him", there is a belief among tennis experts that the current top five will not be breached this season. There is nobody capable of breaking the hierarchy, they say.

One of the "exciting players" that Federer was probably referring to is the boy with the booming forehand, Tomas Berdych.

Having reached last year's Wimbledon final - and dispatching Federer en route - the 25-year-old Czech soon found himself being talked about as the next big thing in tennis.

According to the ATP's quarterly magazine Deuce, he arrived at Flushing Meadows in New York in August as "a genuine contender" and "one of the favourites for the US Open".

He crashed out in the very first round.

Berdych, despite failing to progress past the quarter-finals at any stage thereafter, found himself ranked as high as No 6 in the world by mid-October and qualified for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London, where he beat Roddick, but lost to Djokovic and Nadal in straight sets.

At this week's Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Monte Carlo-based right-hander is seeded third and yesterday booked his place in the quarter-finals after beating Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).

He will now face Germany's Philip Petzschner this afternoon.

Yesterday's result secures him at least 90 ATP rankings points, but having last year reached finals at Wimbledon and Miami, as well as the semi-final of the French Open and quarter-finals in Indian Wells and Munich, Berdych has a lot of points to defend in the coming months.

Understandably, he appears more focused on cementing his place in the top 10 than he is of infiltrating the big five.

"You know, the season starts in January, and ends up, hopefully for me, in London," he said.

"The points count from all of the year. What happened last year, that's just the past. Now I have maybe eight or nine more months to make enough points to stay in the top 10 - or even move a little bit higher."

Breaking into the top five this season, while unlikely, remains Berdych's target - along with going one step further in the grand slam tournaments.

The final success of Djokovic at the Australian Open last month, where the Serb beat Berdych in the quarter-finals, was only the third time in the previous 24 major tournaments that the trophy was not won by Federer or Nadal.

"Just now, I'm happy to be in this time, having a chance to play against these great players," he said.

"Once I'm going to finish, I can say I beat both of them, I played great matches against them and look what they achieved."

Berdych added that Djokovic's success in Melbourne proves that to win a major nowadays, "you have to beat three great players".

"I did it at Wimbledon. I beat Roger, I beat Novak, but in the final there was still one more waiting for me," he said. "[This year], I wish to make it happen; that's what I am trying to do."

It is widely recognised that, while Nadal and Federer's domination of the sport may be unprecedented, it cannot last forever.

Federer is showing no signs of easing off the gas and it is easy to forget that Nadal is still only 24, but eventually something has to give.

Djokovic will be lying in wait, as, it would be expected, will Murray and Soderling.

What is essential for the likes of Berdych is that, when the dominance subsides and the opportunity arrives, the peripheral players inside the top 10 take it with both hands.

Only then will they achieve their goals. And only then will the top five be breached.