BNP Paribas Open

Warning: Bad tennis outfit. You can see why Rafael Nadal said he’d change his outfit when he gets to Miami. Why he’s waiting that long I don’t know. Some people call them picket fence pants but to me they look like a pair of run of the mill boxer shorts that just happen to be elongated.

I was joking when I wondered whether a fight might break out between Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych in their quarterfinal match this evening. Berdych put a finger to his lips to shush the Rafa crazed crowd after he beat Rafa in the Madrid Masters event in 2006. When Berdych got to the net Rafa gave him a lecture on his behavior and Berdych was none too pleased.

But Berdych hasn’t been bothering anyone all that much for the past few years. He just hasn’t done very much on the tennis court. However, I’m happy to report that I was right. A fight did break out. Not the finger wagging type or fisticuffs – have you ever seen pro tennis players come to blows or, if so, I’m sure it was nothing compared to a fight in any other pro sport with the exception of golf or curling.

Mario Ancic once shoved his opponent at the end of a match but, honestly, the guy asked for it. And it was just a shove.

No, this was two hard hitters just slamming the ball and it puzzled me. Why would Rafa try to out hit Berdych? Isn’t that tantamount to putting the ball in the guy’s wheelhouse? And when Rafa did slice and dice and change speeds he was effective.

Rafa broke Berdych right off the bat then hit a beautiful lunging volley for a winner in the second game and for the first few games it looked like Rafa was gonna kill Berdych. Then with Berdych serving at 1-3 he started to find his range. He fought off a bunch of break points but somehow managed to hold on and we settled in for the fight.

Maybe Rafa didn’t want to play around with the wind – which was considerable – because he was hitting ropes and Berdych was hitting them right back. Power tennis can be boring when points are short but this was one hard shot after another. However, back to that slicing and dicing I mentioned above.

Berdych managed to pressure Rafa and even the set at 4-3 and in the next game Rafa appeared to be listening to me. He gave Berdych some changeups and won the game at love. Then, serving for the set, Rafa went back to power ball. And therein lies the answer to my puzzlement. It was the wind.

I asked Rafa why he didn’t slice more as Berdych was having trouble with his slices and he answered that it depended on what side of the court he was on. He didn’t want to slice into the wind. What can I say? I live in Los Angeles. I seldom play in the wind.

Both players kept up the shotmaking in the second set – I particularly loved a slice lob Berdych put up that landed just inside the baseline – and the power tennis resumed. It looked like Berdych could take the match to a third set after he got a good start in the second set tiebreaker, but he gave one point back on an error then suffered a double fault that gave Rafa the opportunity to serve out the match.

You know how that script usually goes if your opponent is Rafa. In this case, Berdych looped a lazy ball to Rafa then followed that up with an error. It was a timid ending to a major fight. If this had been pay-per-view I’m pretty sure you’d have heard a collective groan in fightland.

In this case, though, people were happy that Rafa won. There’s been a shortage of top players getting through the draw and everyone wanted to see him play some more magnificent tennis. So do I.

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