MELBOURNE — No. 7 Tomas Berdych ended his 17-match losing streak to Rafael Nadal, stunning the Spaniard 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (5) to advance to the Australian Open semifinals. The big-hitting Czech came into the match without a win over Nadal in eight years, but behind pummeling ground strokes and, admittedly, an off-form Nadal, Berdych held off a third set charge from Nadal to win. The victory put Berdych into his second consecutive Australian Open semifinal, where he’ll face either No. 6 Andy Murray or Nick Kyrgios.
Berdych played an impossibly clean match to upend Nadal, who was seeking to advance to his fifth Australian Open semifinal. The Czech hit 46 winners to 21 unforced errors, firing 10 aces and no double-faults. Nadal appeared sluggish to start the match, hitting just one winner off his vaunted forehand side in the first set. Nadal saved two match points late in the fourth set on his serve to force a tiebreak, but Berdych was able to secure the minibreak early. Nadal finished with 24 winners to 26 unforced errors, with three aces and six double-faults.
“I was definitely ready for it,” Berdych said. “I set up my plan pretty well and I stuck with it all the way through the three sets. I think that was the biggest difference from our last matches.”
Berdych’s win sets up a possible clash against Murray in the semifinals. Murray fired his long-time coach and hitting partner Dani Vallverdu after the 2014 season over tension with Amelie Mauresmo, and Berdych hired Vallverdu onto his team. The results have been nothing but positive for Berdych. He goes into the semifinals without having lost a set.
“So far the work that we’ve done, I’m really happy how we’ve worked together so far. The good thing is that we haven’t spent so much time together and I’m already able to get things done on the court,” he said.
Here are three quick thoughts off Berdych’s big win:
1. This was long overdue
There’s a strong argument to be made that Berdych is the best active player not to win a Slam. He’s been a top 10 stalwart since 2010 but has made just one Slam final, at Wimbledon in 2010. Powerful and athletic for his height, Berdych has a history of rolling through the early rounds of tournaments only to get picked apart by the game’s best. It happened last year at the China Open, where he sailed into the final only to get demolished 6-0, 6-2 at the hands of No. 1 Novak Djokovic. He started the season similarly, losing just 15 games to make the Qatar Open final before losing 6-4, 7-5 to No. 10 David Ferrer.
On Tuesday he ran the risk of being on the losing side of the worst losing streak in the ATP Open Era. He stepped up and played a controlled match and never wavered as the finish line approached. Is he this year’s Stan Wawrinka?
2. Nadal’s rollercoaster tournament is over
A finalist last year, the Spaniard tempered the expectations before tournament, citing his limited match play after a long injury layoff in 2014. He came within a game of losing in the second round to No. 112 Tim Smyczek, but rebounded by not losing a set in his next two wins. But he wasn’t his best against Berdych. His movement was sluggish and his shots landed too short in the court, letting Berdych take big cuts at the ball. Television commentators suspected he was dealing with a minor leg injury that was playing with his mind and affecting his focus. But in the end this wasn’t a bad tournament for Nadal. Asking him to win a hard court title after playing just eight matches since Wimbledon was too much of an ask even for the great Rafa Nadal.
3. Andy Murray has to be salivating
He was the man with the toughest draw. At the start of the tournament it looked like he might have to go through Grigor Dimitrov, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and then Novak Djokovic to win this title. He took care of Dimitrov in four sets and Federer and Nadal are now out. Berdych has always been a tough opponent for him. The Czech leads the head-to-head 6-4. But if Murray can get a clean win over Nick Kyrgios later Tuesday, he has a great shot at making his first Slam final since he won Wimbledon two years ago.