Berdych was on, Federer was off, leaving Berdych in and Federer out.
But that’s not the whole story. There was a most important mitigating circumstance; Mardy Fish withdrew from his scheduled fourth round match with Roger Federer.
At any level of competitive play, most certainly amongst elite players, the balance between exertion and rest is a delicate one. Playing matches keeps a player “match tight.”
Rest insures adequate recovery and the proper amount is essential. But too much rest dulls the edge.
The walkover created by Fish’s withdrawal left Federer having not played a match in four days. Understandably, many would feel that having the extra rest would be beneficial. That’s not the case for top tennis players and it wasn’t for Federer.
Federer insists the interval between matches was not a factor in his loss. I don’t believe that.
In horse racing parlance, “he was short,” meaning lacking in a subtle but indispensable element for peak performance…sharpness.
The Fed was a short horse. He was as flat as a pancake through the early stages of the match. Uncharacteristically, he sprayed balls all over the place. And though he appeared calm and contained, as always, I can assure you he was anything but that.
Having dropped the first set and trailing midway through the second, it was abundantly clear the Maestro was in trouble, big trouble. Still, the seemingly unflappable demeanor remained intact and on display.
Given his apparent state of tranquil control, most in Arthur Ashe stadium probably felt that at any moment the greatest player of all time would begin turning things around. Indeed, that did appear the case as he began producing one mind boggling shot after another en route to winning the third set.
An emphatic fist-pump as he closed that set out seemingly indicated a growing confidence, a solid shift in momentum from Berdych to him.
It was an impressive Federer-ish rally. While Berdych appeared a little stunned, he didn’t flinch. Rather, he continued pounding both his serve and ground strokes.
Berdych’s firepower has never been questionable. His mental resolve has.
But not this time. Unwaveringly, he stayed the course and closed the door on Federer’s quest to win his 18th singles slam.
Kudos to Thomas Berdych for not giving in to the inevitable doubt that begins gnawing away at an opponent once Federer begins to roll. It can erode belief in the strongest. Berdych looked squarely into the eyes of the “beast of doubt” and stared it down.
He should be a better, more confident competitor for having done so against the greatest player, within a monstrous venue, on a monumental occasion.
The infusion of confidence could carry Berdych a long way. How far remains to be seen.
Formidable foes await. Can he vanquish them as he did the worlds’ number one?
Surely he’s gotta be thinking, “If I can beat the man I can beat anybody.”
The one certainty is that with the bit of inadvertent help from Mardy Fish, Thomas Berdych is well positioned to break free of any real or perceived constraints preventing a win of his first major.