Every great tennis player has a trait (or a pair or triplet of traits) that has played a significant part in bringing him or her to such high level of play. Federer has his anticipation and versatility/shot-making abilities, Nadal has his speed and spin, Djokovic has his incredible flexibility and movement, and Murray has his solid backhand. These traits have translated into either incredible offensive or defensive capabilities. Now, what trait(s) make Berdych Berdych? We know, quite a lot of you readers would struggle to come up with a quick answer to this one. Hence, we write this article to shine some analytical light on one player often passed over a lot of tennis fans (and according to our experience, tennis commentators). We write about the three traits we believe played the biggest roles in leading him to become only one of three players (alongside Wawrinka and Tsonga) to have beaten all of the Big Four in major events (an ATP 1000 and/or grand slam match), and also reveal what we believe is the most important one amongst the three.
Power is the most obvious trait of Tomas Berdych. Being six foot five, he is taller than most of his competitors and thus able to generate shots on average much more powerful. Despite the name of the header, the type of power under discussion here is a highly qualified one. It is not pure raw power in the sense of being able to generate the fastest forehand, or hit the fastest serve, but the ability to hit a series of hard shots again and again in a way that other ATP players can't. It must also be said that almost all of such powerful shots of Berdych's comes from his forehand, but it does not matter because is able to make use enough of it to generate the results consistently.
As can be seen in the video, Murray was having quite some trouble with Berdych's forehands. THe weight and speed of the balls were used to either bring Murray off-balance and/or finish the point out-right in a spectacularly explosive fashion. A point where both usages of such power were involved is the point spanning between 0:48 and 0:54 of the video.
The other three of the big Four also did not have easy time whenever they played against Berdych or some else with a similar powerful style ....
Although Berdych lost the point eventually in the above video, his ability to hit hard shot after hard shot was beyond-belief impressive - perhaps this is because the best defences bring out the best offences. Nadal was clearly struggling in a way that was not his usual - being pulled wide and back for such an extended stretch of time.
This pair of points between Djokovic and Del Potro also illustrates the same point - that giants are giving a hard time even for the tennis greats. Like the previous video, although Del Potro lost the points eventually, he was able to puncture holes in Djokovic's defenses and made him scrambling exposed in a way no other player (apart from perhaps Cilic and Berdych, the three of them being of a similar height) was able to.
One much less obvious and talked-about trait of Berdych's is the deadly precision of his shots. In our opinion, the scud-like level of precision of his shots is not too different from that of Federer's. This has enabled Berdych to finish off points on more occasions than what would be deemed normal for more ordinary ATP players. Just take the point at 3:04 of the above Murray-Berdych video for instance, although the laser-like forehand down-the-line did not finish off the point, it endangered Murray so much it basically sealed the point for Berdych as he pounced upon the weak return of Murray that was being forced as a result of that down-the-line forehand.
Berdych's ability to hit with such accuracy is largely due to his forehand grip. As can be seen in the above video, he holds a semi-western grip in a way not too modern. The entire stroke - from backswing to the finish - was done in a very lateral fashion. As a result, the ball drives through deep and fast into the opponent's court, leaving the opponent little space and time to react. Does this stroke look similar to someone else's? Well it's not too hard to guess who! It's really similar to Roger Federer's in this sense, except that Roger Federer uses a more eastern grip!
Although not exactly a stand-out point of his, Berdych has very decent movement on the court, particularly his lateral movements and resulting-ly a solid ability to defend against baseline-area groundstrokes. Like his power, this is due to his height. At 6 foot 5, he is taller than most players to be able to generate consistently more powerful shots than them, yet not tall enough such that his height would impact his movement in any way. Exceedingly tall players, such as John Isner and Ivo Karlovic, have very powerful weapons but look as if they are moving very clumsily on the court. Such appearance is almost completely tied to the reality on the ground, as the not-very-kinetic body frame and the huge amount of energy that needs to be consumed by the larger body mass weighs like a rock on them throughout whatever match they play. Defense is equally, if not more, as important as offense. A good offensive player who keeps losing points as a result of not being able to cover the court well would render his weapons useless. This is especially important in today's tennis scene, where the material of the courts and racket technology facilitates long rallies. Having said such, we conclude confidently (though we do not wish to impose this on any others who might have different opinions) that movement is the most important amongst the three traits, despite the irony that it is not a stand-out trait of Berdych's.
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