Sun is shining ever so brightly in the Rafael Nadal’s camp, as he registered yet another convincing victory over the big Czech, Tomas Berdych, for the 14th time in his career. Following a classic against Roger Federer, Nadal failed to bring a matching brilliance to the court against Berdych. As it turned out, Nadal demonstrated a lopsided performance to overcome a Birdman’s storm. Either player thrived on comfortable service holds to carry their surge ahead. As the set progressed, Nadal was playing the “aggressor” backed by a high first percentage of 79%. But, the triumph of an abruptly swerving Berdych’s service has to be attributed to a defensive and receded return position of Nadal, a by-product of a tentativeness instilled into his game over the past two matches. However, Nadal continued to deploy his aggressive forehand approach to maneuver Berdych and disrupt his rhythm. Brimming with a peerless sky high confidence, appears to be rocketing to greater heights with every leap; heights which don’t demand him to stand tall to look down on others.
It was 5-5 and Berdych was the first to concede. At 40-30, Nadal switched back to his own defining game pattern of peppering Berdych’s backhand to tease him on the forehand wing, before turning the tease into a reality. A forehand winner down the line, followed by a well judged challenge to service line call has taken him to the first break point. Berdych was looking to spring in a surprise by cruising ahead towards the net after directing a kick serve to Nadal’s forehand wing. It wouldn’t convince most of the tennis experts, and in retrospect, it wouldn’t have convinced Berdych either. Nadal responded with a heavy topspin, dipping forehand which would extract -an error from Berdych’s backhand volley. Nadal served the first out 7-5, comfortably.
Berdych has failed to “silence Nadal’s supporters” since his victory at Madrid 2006. As complete a player as he is, one leaner fact that he managed to bag only 2 sets of their next 11 encounters would suffice to prove the illicitness in his contention to push semifinals to the distance. But the Berdych rightfully had other ideas as he tightened up his service game to rack blocks of pressure upon Nadal’s service game, which was starting to look rattled. He capitalized on serving ahead when drew the first blood in the sixth game of the second set, which saw Nadal committing one of his many double faults leading 40-30. Berdych’s tendency to retreat against Nadal always boggles my mind, but for once, his patience paid dividends when an uncharacteristic forehand unforced error from Nadal elevated him to a 4-2 lead. “Champions hit back immediately” – as much cliched as it sounds; I see it as highly probable act. Nadal hit back to implement a wonderful pattern of game centered around his forehand, for which he had Berdych to be thanked. Twice in the seventh game, Berdych had hit a second ball to Nadal’s forehand only to lose control over the point after Nadal seized command with down-the-line forehands. 4-3 and it was Nadal back on serve.
Double fault – ace – double fault – ace was Nadal’s excruciatingly painful display in the following game, to level it 4-4. 5 double faults in second set could have had something to do with Nadal losing sight of the tossed ball in a shining sun. But, if the 12 time major winner were to replicate his Montreal performance at Cincinnati on Sunday, he would have to do more than just dealing with this. Few service holds and there comes the tie-breaker. An ill-timed double fault from Berdych at 2-2 in tiebreaker gave Nadal the necessary boost to propel ahead and serve out the match. Retrospection of set 2 tells me that Nadal, wounded by 6 double faults, managed to prevail with a decent first serve percentage of 67% over Berdych, who has assisted Nadal’s cause with a pathetic first serve percentage of 52% and 3 double faults.
Consoling factor for a Nadal’s fan would be the fact that he is no where near the top in ‘service return winning percentage’ leaders of the 2013 season. While it is safe to state that his hard court success in the season has not been completely launched upon pad called “improved return game”, it is equally critical to realize there is a lot to be desired of that side of the coin. Nadal has looked indecisive on his return position, shuttling between baseline and recession. A first serve return percentage of 17% against Berdych indicates that his chances against a big serving and giant killing American giant, John Isner, are far from ominous. Accounting his service return performance, Nadal’s victory is presumably hinged on Isner’s racket. I’d predict the outcome to be decided by few important points and who better than Nadal can you bet on summoning one’s ‘A’ game at crucial moments?
Not frequently would spectators associate ‘nerves’ with Nadal, but an unfamiliar adventure in a partially alien territory might prove the relevance of this association. Looking back and forward, tension is expected to creep into Nadal’s head, as the finale unfolds. Is the Cincinnati Masters trophy is ready to be touched and bitten by one of the greats of all time, as the fat lady sings? Here’s hoping that a long eluding meal is served on Nadal’s plate!