Rafael Nadal progressing to the semifinals of a clay court tournament has been a regular occurrence in the past decade, but confirming his place in the semifinals of the Madrid Masters would be a relief for him and his fans, as it is his first of the European claycourt season this year.
In what could only be a demoralizing defeat for Berdych, having endured a losing streak against the Spaniard for the past eight years, Nadal reminded the rest of the tour he was not going to be pushed away that easily on his favourite surface with a ruthless 6-4, 6-2 beat-down.
The match started in a tense manner with both players pushing each other to deuce on their opening service games, but managing to hold on.
After both players continued to hold serve it looked like a tie-breaker was imminent, as each gave little opportunity to the other. But at 3-3, Nadal stepped it up. He got two break point opportunities and he converted on the second with a brilliant running forehand.
That one break was enough, as the superstar from Mallorca continued to confidently hold serve and take the first set 6-4. This was a tight opening set, but Nadal was brilliant in the crucial points. Berdych did all the right things, but Nadal was resilient as ever. The Czech couldn’t dictate play against Nadal and succumbed in the long rallies.
While Nadal had still not reduced his errors significantly, he wasn’t afraid to go for his shots. His serve was working well though, as he attacked Berdych’s backhand and then put the ball out of reach with a crosscourt forehand. In his opening service game in the second set Nadal produced an outstanding running forehand to further demoralize Berdych.
Not surprisingly, the Czech faltered in the next game. Nadal produced a stunning backhand pass, and Berdych followed that up with a couple of errors. At break point, a scintillating passing shot gave Nadal the break. His roar showed his confidence, almost as though saying, ‘No three quarterfinal exits in a row for me!’
The Czech did play to his strengths. He manoeuvred the ball well to move Nadal around the court, but he couldn’t find the gap he wanted to produce a winner.
Nadal continued to assert himself on Berdych’s game. Those passing shots and forehand winners were a definite psychological boost to him, and it showed in his game.
While Nadal’s recent form on clay may have given more confidence to his opponents than they usually have, Berdych seemed to lack the conviction to take the game to Nadal. Not having defeated him since 2006, it would be difficult for anyone to find inspiration, especially after being a set and a break down, and Berdych was no exception.
Added to it was the fact that Nadal wasn’t playing like someone who was on a poor run on clay. His strokes were confident, and he eventually got into Berdych’s head.
The Czech continued to prod away, but it just wasn’t enough. Up 4-2, Nadal reached another break point and this time hit a backhand winner to take an insurmountable 5-2 lead.
The World No. 1 served out the match in style. With Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale watching, he won the set 6-2, and with it the match.
Nadal finished with 24 winners and converted 3 out of 5 break points he earned. Berdych’s losing streak against Nadal continued, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The King of Clay can’t be suppressed for too long.Published 09 May 2014, 21:42 IST