Madrid: Berdy Ends DelPo’s Clay Streak

Berdych d. Del Potro, 7-6(5) 7-6(6)

Photo: Getty Images

It was a very closely fought and entertaining match between the two giants, but Berdy edged out the win in two TBs.  The stats for this match show that both DelPo and Berdy won 79 points—however, Berdy was especially strong with his serve and that proved to be the decisive factor.  The aggressive tennis on-show was delightful.  Final W/UFEs for the match: Del Potro, 30/19 and Berdy, 41/27.

Despite the fact that DelPo lost this match, I will probably watch this match on replay in the future.  The hitting was splendid—DelPo’s running forehands, his anticipation of Berdy’s CCFH and his on-the-line winners had me grinning at the computer stream.  For a brief stretch until 3-1 in the 1st set, DelPo was serving above 85% and he was keeping Berdy planted firmly behind the baseline.  The first few games showed just how DelPo had managed straight-set wins over Berdy in their previous 3 matches — the depth of DelPo’s shots kept Berdy off-balance.  For awhile, Berdy looked truly uncomfortable dealing with the depth and pace of DelPo’s shots.  In their previous matches, DelPo would usually take command with his forehands to break down Berdy’s game.

However, the slightly slippery conditions of the court favored Berdy, as Berdy is perhaps more adept at moving on this surface than DelPo.  Berdy was hitting his FH at an average of 10km/hr faster than DelPo.  This is a fairly surprising stat, because in previous DelPo-Berdy matches, DelPo is the one who hits the stronger FH—that was certainly the case in Rotterdam, but sadly it was not to be in Madrid.  Given how DelPo fell and stumbled his way through a few points, I’d say his lack of firm footing on the surface took the edge off his ground strokes.  Mind you, this is not an attempt to make an excuse for DelPo’s loss—if anything, it’s a credit to Berdy for staying upright while blasting his shots.  It’s common knowledge that some players will move better on HCs, while others will be gazelle-like on the grass.  DelPo is still Bambi-on-ice when playing slippery courts (see: Queens, Wimbledon), so it’s nice to see that he was moving as well as he did.  I don’t want to go overboard with the praise (especially since he lost the match), but DelPo played some truly marvelous defense and he took advantage of his wingspan to keep the ball in play.

With everything going so swimmingly, that’s when DelPo played a very loose game, when he was serving for the set at 5*-4.

Photo: Reuters

He missed 8 of his 9 first serves and Berdy broke to level the set.  The TB was a topsy-turvy affair.  DelPo was playing with much less authority and Berdy took the cue to move in and dictate the play—Berdy went up 5-1 in the TB, before DelPo woke up and reinvoked his super-striking of the ball to level the TB at 5-5!  However, the mini-comeback ended up being a false hope, as DelPo played too tentatively again to give Berdy SP, which Berdy took.

The 1st set TB was close, and DelPo definitely had his chances.  Unfortunately, he let a controversial line call get to his head.  He argued with the chair ump over a mark on the clay, and was miffed about the call from that point onwards.  He was seen mumbling angrily at himself and the umpire, after losing the 1st set.

We’ve seen DelPo completely lose his head over a controversial call, as was the case when he lost in disappointing fashion to Fed at IW this year.  I feared something similar would happen, especially when Berdy broke DelPo early in the 2nd set.

Thankfully, DelPo revived himself and he got his head right back in the game.  Although the errors off his BH wing were starting to pile up (his BH is usually more consistent), he was playing with the more of the conviction he’d shown through most of the 1st set.  He missed BP chances, but Berdy was also doing a stellar job of mixing up his serves.

The 2nd set TB proved to be even more dramatic than the first.  Berdy took an early mini-break, only for DelPo to break back.  DelPo hit what he thought was an ace, that would have given him SP.  The umpire ruled the ball to be out, and DelPo was predictably angry.  TV replay showed that the serve was indeed out.  However, DelPo was still angry and he ended up losing the subsequent point.  Berdy closed the match out from there.

In his anger, DelPo refused to shake the umpire’s hand after the match, and he instead waved his finger in the umpire’s face.  This is clearly not the right thing to do and I won’t try to defend it.  DelPo surely knows by now that not only was the umpire correct on both calls, but that his subsequent outbursts may have cost him the important points of the match, which was decided by the slightest of margins.

Look at the beautiful linear positioning of DelPo’s finge–!  I mean, not cool, DelPo.  You have to shake the ump’s hand.  

How egregious people judge DelPo’s non-handshaking to be, will ultimately depend on which camp they’re in and whether or not they like him.  I like him, and I’d like it better if he could get a metaphorical smack on the head—it’s pretty obvious by now that he gets overly wound-up over issues that absolutely have to be forgotten and looked past, in the greater interests of the match.  Easier said than done, but maybe this match will finally drive home the point for our friendly (d@mmit-most-of-the-time-he’s-friendly!) giant.

Overall, I am gutted over this loss.  DelPo had taken so many strides and he’d recently established a pattern of beating everyone outside the top 5.  He’d carved out a nice niche for himself, being consistent enough to outplay those in the lower half of the top 10.  A win over Berdy in Madrid (which was totally manageable) would have cemented DelPo’s progress, and it would have placed him in a Masters final.  That his temper played a role in losing is also somewhat disheartening, but hopefully it will add more (constructive) fuel to the fire and ramp him up for the rest of the season.  I’d love to listen in on DelPo and Franco’s conversation after this loss, to see how they discussed the line call incidents.

Irony of ironies, at the conclusion of this match, DelPo walked off the court looking like he needed a lesson in sportsmanship, while Berdy came off looking like an angel.  Not for long, however.  Observe Berdy’s FB update, straight after his win over DelPo.  It says, “7/6 7/6 pokora…/…7/6 7/6 humility.”  I don’t know what Berdy means by humility—is he saying his own humility let him win the match, or that he humiliated DelPo?

Let’s just put it this way: Way back when, Nalby-Hewitt hated each other.  Given their rancorous relations, Hewitt chose to bring bodyguards with him to Argentina, when Australia were visiting Argentina for a Davis Cup tie (which ARG won, convincingly).  Perhaps Berdy may want to hire bodyguards, when Argentina host the Czech Republic at Buenos Aires?  I’m joking, of course!

Berdy will play Fed in the Madrid final—will the same clean-hitting Berdy show up, or will the Berd-brain rear its head?  We will see.

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About mariposaxprs

I play favorites with Juan Martin Del Potro, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Gilles Simon and the long line of mercurial talent that drives me to despair in front of the screen at odd hours during the week.
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