06:30 PM GMT November 10, 2014
Tomas Berdych’s forehand has seen better days.
Berdych lost his opening round match of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals 6-1, 6-1 to Stan Wawrinka on Monday, and the heavy defeat can be mainly attributed to this completely misfiring stroke.
Berdych normally relies on his flashy forehand to pressure and stretch opponents from the back of the court, but it didn’t produce a single winner against Wawrinka, while notching up 24 errors (16 groundstroke / eight return).
Other areas of his game also underperformed, but the spotlight of defeat shined squarely on this specific area, which started spraying right from the beginning of the match.
"Well, unfortunately it was my worst match of the whole season," Berdych said post-match. "My game is about hitting the ball nice, clean, then you can create something. But that’s the beginning of what I didn’t have today at all. I hit so many frames."
Berdych’s honest assessment of his game was spot on, as he made three forehand errors in the opening game. He lost the game with a routine forehand from the middle of the court, badly pulling off the shot to his left while trying to hit the ball to his right. His balance, timing and ultimately confidence were all suffering early on.
In the following game, Berdych committed two consecutive forehand errors from deuce to lose his serve. After four games, Berdych had accumulated 10 forehand errors (seven groundstroke / three return), giving Wawrinka an obvious target to keep hammering away at.
Berdych tried to hide the weakness with a serve-and-volley play down 0-3, 0/40, but an excellent low blocking return by Wawrinka had Berdych’s backhand volley finding the bottom of the net.
Only seven rallies made it past nine shots, and Wawrinka won 67 per cent (54 to 26) of the shorter points. As Berdych aptly said, "This is just a bad day. That’s how it is."
In the opening set, Wawrinka used his raking backhand primarily cross court to pull Berdych off the court, and also to open up a hole in the deuce court to attack the forehand on the next shot. Wawrinka hit 86 per cent of his backhands cross court with ruthless determination. Wawrinka then used his forehand to go right at Berdych’s forehand, hitting 74 per cent cross court through the deuce court, with only five forehands going down the line. Wawrinka won an extremely high 71 per cent (15/21) of baseline points in the first set by sticking to this effective strategy.
The confidence Wawrinka gained from getting free points in rallies helped him bomb away with his first serve, only losing one point (21/22) on first serve for the entire match. Wawrinka was also a perfect five for five serving and volleying, taking the battle forward when the score was in his favour to surprise the Czech. Berdych’s serve was also misfiring, as he only won 21 per cent (5/21) of second serves for the match. Wawrinka sped through his service games, averaging 98 seconds each, and 18 seconds between serves. It was an avalanche of aggression that Berdych couldn’t escape from. Berdych’s struggles on serve were clearly illustrated by the duration of his service games, averaging four minutes and 34 seconds, and 24 seconds between points. It was a slow, hard slog to win points anywhere on the court for the Czech.
Wawrinka repeatedly chipped Berdych’s first serve back in play, neutralising the weapon, and then stepped forward to hit bigger returns off second serves to immediately rush Berdych’s groundstrokes. Wawrinka only averaged 54mph on his first serve returns (Berdych 61mph), often floating the first serve return high and deep like a butterfly, landing it close to the baseline with no power for Berdych to hurt him back with.
Berdych is making his fifth straight appearance at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and has never won his opening match, but has always gone on to win his second match. He will need to tidy up his forehand in the next 48 hours for that to stay true to form.
Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at www.braingametennis.com.