Berdych, Baghdatis and the fight club

Marcos Baghdatis is an entertaining guy. He smiles a lot, bounces the ball between his legs before each serve and plays with the ballgirls and ballboys. He can afford to be care free. He burst onto the scene with an incredible run at the Australian Open dropping Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian on the way to the final where he lost to Roger Federer. Federer is the only top ten player he’s ever lost too. His record is 6-0 against the rest of the top pack.

Tomas Berdych is in a different position. They might as well make a clothing line called “talented” and make players like Berdych wear it because that’s the label given to him when he is referred to. Usually when someone refers to a player as talented, it’s because they haven’t had the success expected of them. No one is calling Baghdatis talented, he’s just good.

Watching this match today, Berdych doesn’t look like a member of the fight club and Baghdatis does.

Baghdatis and Berdych played each other in the fourth round today. After Baghdatis’ 6-4, 6-1 victory, I asked him why he’s had so much success against top ten players and Berdych hasn’t. Players today won’t say anything negative about another player’s game, they won’t even given an honest assessment. That’s why we’re so happy to have Martina Hingis back, she always speaks her mind. After beating Lindsay Davenport she called out the women’s tour for being less competitive now than it used to be. But Baghdatis did say, “…tennis is a tough sport. You have to be there every day and fight every day.”

Watching this match today, Berdych doesn’t look like a member of the fight club and Baghdatis does. Baghdatis didn’t answer my question directly but if we look at the last game of the match, we can answer the question for ourselves.

Baghdatis had won the first set 6-4 and he was up 5-1 in the second. This game could be the end of the match. On the first point Berdych hit an ace. At six foot five and 200 lbs., Berdych is big enough to hit a hard flat serve.

Berdych won the second point with a backhand slice approach that crossed the court at such a sharp angle it looked like a drop shot. Berdych has touch and a good an-all court game. You can see the talent everyone talks about.

But it’s Baghdatis who lunges at a good Berdych serve to get it over the net then wins the point when Berdych sends the ball long and it’s Baghdatis who runs wide for a very good approach shot and hits an ever better passing shot.

Finally, Berdych commits the ultimate sin. On his second game point, he hits a good approach shot then lets a Baghdatis lob float over his head without a swing only to see it land in the ad court corner. How can you let a playable lob go on game point? Membership in the fight club denied.

That must have been the last straw for Berdych because followed it up with two straight unforced errors for the game and the match.

Things could be worse for Berdych. He could have gotten all the way to a grand slam win only to find himself mired in a troubling slump. It’s hard to say slump when you’re the number three player in the world but Andy Roddick was absolutely beside himself after his loss to Igor Andreev. He lost the first set, 6-4, then dropped five set points in the second set before finally taking the tiebreaker. He had Andreev down 0-40 in the first game of the third set but couldn’t cash in then lost his serve at love.

In the press conference after the match, Roddick had an absolutely memorable meltdown. Between amusing references to Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons and Miss Cleo the psychic, Roddick seemed completely mystified and more than a little pissed. When asked to explain what happened at the beginning of the third set he answered, “I don’t know, I mean it’s only – you know. I’m the only one to blame. I don’t know what the hell I did. It was just like a blur.” Roddick was so angry during the match that he got a code violation for smashing his racket. Someone asked where his frustration was coming from and Roddick understandably responded, with frustration, “It’s coming from playing like shit. I don’t know what else you want?”

Roddick is the top American player and the number three player in the world, there is a mountain of pressure on him to maintain that ranking and perform well in big tournaments. Letting off steam under that pressure is not such a bad thing if you feel better afterwards. But it’s not clear that Roddick’s problems are mental. On one of his volley attempts, his footwork was so awkward that he ended up lunging at the ball instead of hitting a smooth volley. If he plays within himself, and that means hanging out on the baseline most of the time, his true ranking might be further down the top ten.