Sunday 18 February 2018

Tennis: Berdych ferocity leaves Murray in shade

Mark Hodgkinson in Paris

IN Tomas Berdych's hands, a tennis racket is a piece of military hardware, and in the grey light of Court Suzanne Lenglen at Roland Garros, he was hitting forehands past Andy Murray that were akin to tracer bullets.

Berdych doesn't do subtlety and he certainly doesn't do percentages, and those blurred yellow lines kept on jumping out of the darkness, exploding off his strings and through the wet clay and, with Murray unable to counter the ungodly power of his opponent, it was the Czech who reached the quarter-finals of the French Open a little after 9.30pm local time.

Towards the close of his 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 defeat, Murray almost needed a pair of night-vision goggles; he probably also would have benefited from some protective clothing, on a night when Berdych hit almost a half century of winners in just over two hours.

This was a wet, wretched, thoroughly miserable evening for Murray. It was so cold out there that Murray's coach, Miles Maclagan, had a scarf on, his coaching consultant, Alex Corretja, was wearing a Puffa jacket, and someone in the crowd thought to blurt out: "Come on Andy, it's like summer in Scotland."

Because of an earlier rain delay, most of the spectators had imagined that the fourth-round match would not be completed last night and had left the grounds, so the last set and a bit were played in front of a tiny crowd, the sort of audience you would expect for a first-round match involving a couple of draw-fillers, not an evening when the world No 4 was attempting to reach the quarter-finals for the second year in succession.

Murray expected much more from his evening than to lose in straight sets to the world No 17; his French Open fizzled out on the damp clay.

It was clear Murray wasn't too happy in the impending darkness, as he was not finding it easy to keep a grip on the clay at the back of the court, and during one changeover he told the umpire that it was "rough out there for the players".

But there was nothing rougher than Berdych's forehand. He is yet to drop a set during this tournament, and went through to play Mikhail Youzhny, a Russian who reached the quarter-finals in Paris for the first time after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the last Frenchman in the tournament, retired after a set because of a back injury.

If there was a ball to be hit, the Eastern European would hit it, and he would hit it extremely hard. He played a little dink on the last point of the opening set, but it was tricky to recall many other 'touch' shots from his racket.

Berdych has been smacking opponents off the court throughout this French Open. He had dropped a total of just 25 games to make the fourth round, including just five against John Isner of the United States.

In the past, Berdych has been in the habit of playing well at grand slam tournaments until the fourth round, and then freaking out in the last 16. But that didn't happen here.

Not once did it look as though Berdych would falter.

The prize for Berdych was only the second grand slam quarter-final of his career, almost three years after he made his first at the 2007 Wimbledon Championships.

From the start, Berdych was taking giant swings on his forehand against Murray, and in a seven-minute opening game, the Scot had to stave off three break-points.

In four of his five service games in the first set, Murray had break-points against him. The one break of serve came in the seventh game. Murray's problems continued in the second set when he dropped his serve in the opening game.

The first break-point of the match against Berdych's serve came after more than an hour of play, in the fourth game of the second set, and the Czech flunked his backhand: 2-2. Berdych was about to serve at 3-4, when the heavy rain started, and they left the court just after 8pm.

Most of the spectators departed as well, thinking that there was little chance of the match resuming. So, when the match did restart just after 8.30pm, it was a small crowd, probably in three figures rather than in four.

At 5-5, Murray appeared to be complaining about the state of the court, and he lost his serve. In the next game, Berdych held serve to go two sets to love up. It was so dark that the umpire could conceivably have suspended the match at that stage, but they played on, with Berdych breaking Murray twice in the third set.

Roger Federer, meanwhile, judged his passage into the quarter-finals to perfection.

With the latest drops of rain about to fall on another grey and chilly day at Roland Garros, the world No 1 completed an emphatic 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 over his fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka.

Federer was the first man through the door to the last 16 and became the first to reach the last eight, in which he will face Robin Soderling, the man he beat in last year's final. In his first four matches here, the defending champion has yet to drop a set.

If the draw was kind to Federer in the first three rounds -- none of his opponents were ranked in the world's top 60 -- his friend and Davis Cup team-mate promised a significantly tougher test.

Wawrinka, the world No 24, prefers clay to any other surface and beat Federer on terre battue in Monte Carlo last year.

The two men combined forces to win the Olympic doubles title two years ago, when Wawrinka was arguably the more effective player.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the last French player of either sex in singles competition, retired injured after losing the first set to Mikhail Youzhny. The world No 10 received treatment to his leg when 5-2 down and threw in the towel when the Russian won the following game. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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