Andy Murray is looking to get back to the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2013 when he won it all. Tomas Berdych is hoping to recapture the magic of 2010, his only trip to a Grand Slam final. Coincidentally, it came at the All England Club.
(2) Andy Murray vs (10) Tomas Berdych
Murray turned what looked to be a straight sets romp into a five set adventure against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Murray’s superior fitness and play won out in the end 7-6 (10), 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1. The Scot said afterward that credit goes to Tsonga for making shots and finding some things that worked better in sets three and four to get back into the match. It didn’t help that Murray’s serve dipped in level as well. He struggled on second serve in sets three and four where he won just nine of 28 points off his second serve. He cleaned that up in the decisive set, winning 18 of 24 service points overall, seven of nine off his second serve. As usual, Murray did his job crafting break chances. The 2nd seed saw 12 off the Tsonga serve and converted on six. He would drop serve four times off 13 chances, something he will want to improve on against Berdych.
Life was easier for Berdych who faced first time slam quarterfinalist Lucas Pouille. After a tense opening set decided in a tiebreak, the 10th seed cruised 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-2 against a seemingly overwhelmed and somewhat fatigued Pouille. The Czech pounded his first serve all match, winning 47 of 52 points. Berdych was broken once in the opening set and then held serve through the remainder of the match. He hit the ball cleanly, making just eleven unforced errors in sets two and three after 13 in the opener. Berdych hurt Pouille mostly on second serves, winning 30 of the 45 points played as he broke the 32nd seed four times on eight chances.
This will be the 15th time that Murray and Berdych have gone against each other with Murray owning eight wins. Over the past two years, it has been one way traffic with the Scot winning their last four matches played. Berdych’s last win against Murray came in 2013 when he swept a pair of matches in Madrid and Cincinnati in straight sets. Murray is 2-1 against the Czech at Grand Slams, but they have never met on grass.
Berdych would obviously come into this one a shade better as far as rest after the last round, having not had to extend himself nearly as much as Murray did. Still, the Scot is fit as a fiddle and that was the only the second match this fortnight where he spent more than two hours on court. Murray won’t be fatigued. You could argue that sort of match may actually serve him well over the final two rounds as he searches for his 2nd career Wimbledon Championship.
It’s been a banner run for Murray’s defensive and return abilities as you’d expect these last five matches. Murray has now broken his opponents 27 times on 57 break opportunities. He has seen double digit break chances in every match. Murray’s first serve has been a key for him in most matches, winning 80 percent of the points or better in three rounds. Those numbers dropped to 73 percent against Tsonga, but he still came up big when it mattered most. With the exception of the Millman match that moved indoors half way through, the Scot has kept his errors in check too. He has made 20 unforced errors or less in four of five matches.
Berdych is Murray’s karma bro on breaks this tournament. He’s also amazingly secured 27 breaks on exactly 57 tries. Offensively, his first serve has been dynamic so far. He has won 84 percent of the points or better off his first serve in four of five matches. The Czech isn’t doing it by smashing aces, but he has set himself up comfortably for holds. Of course, that will change against a premier returner like Murray. Berdych has more unforced errors than Murray with 129 through five rounds, but also a higher number of winners with 228. He has always been well above the 1:1 ratio this week, a good sign, but another thing that will be tested more against Murray.
The lone meeting between these two in 2016 came on clay in Madrid where Murray dismantled Berdych 6-3, 6-2. Murray’s first serve won an astonishing 22 of 24 points. The Scot broke Berdych three times on four chances, while not being forced into any break points off his own serve. In their last slam meeting at the 2015 Australian Open, Murray bit into Berdych’s serve again to break him six times on ten chances. Berdych won under 70 percent of the points off his first serve and struggled with 56 unforced errors to 37 winners.
That is going to be the sticking point for Berdych in this semifinal clash. Can his serve hold up against the return of Murray? Recent results would say no and the 10th seed will need to find a groove early to avoid getting himself into trouble on serve. The more Murray pressures Berdych on serve, the more likely he is to get some opportunities off his second serve as well. That’s a slippery slope that can quickly yield poor results for Berdych. If Berdych can find a way to harness his first serve against Murray’s return, then he’s got a chance to stick into sets late and then it’s anyone’s ballgame.
This match is sure to see plenty of time from baseline to baseline. Berdych isn’t inept coming to the net, but it is clear that his comfort level is more from the baseline more often than not. Murray likely will mix and match as he can grind in a baseline slug fest, but will also be keen to test Berdych’s legs with some drop shots and play at the net. Berdych hits well of both wings, but both his forehand and backhand can produce errors when pressed. That’s Murray’s job to put the Czech into bad court positions where he forces Berdych to hit uncomfortable shots.
For Berdych, it’s a tough go to break down Murray’s ground game these days. Murray plays with better confidence than during his petulant days when his ground strokes were more of a tool to engage rallies, rather than a finishing tool as they are more so now. Murray has shown an ability to get to balls that mere mortals only dream of and he’s added some nifty shot making from those death defying angles to boot. All of it makes him difficult to beat without his opposition playing their very best.
The question in this one is whether Berdych at age 30 possesses his very best or at least enough to cause a large upset in this one. His serve certainly says yes, but recent run-ins with Murray say no. What Berdych can take to heart is that Tsonga’s surge in the quarterfinals came after it appeared that Murray had that match in the bag. Even if he gets down, there could still be a way to climb back into the match if he stays mentally strong. That of course is a bit problematic with some of the antics we saw from the 10th seed against Jiri Vesely in the third round. Playing the top tier players like Murray requires full mental and physical engagement. The Pig isn’t sure if Berdych is capable if things go wrong.
For Murray, it is so close now that he can taste it. A return trip to the final for the first time in three years is dangling just ahead of him and without the worry of facing Novak Djokovic in the final. This has been a mostly comfortable match-up for him the past few years against Berdych and the feeling is it would take something we have not seen from Berdych in a while to change that. I think this sets up the same way as most matches against Murray in that the opposition needs some good dividends early to boost their confidence. That means Berdych needs to get a set in the first two or this likely goes the straight sets route.
With Murray potentially a bit emotionally drained at least from the Tsonga match, there may be a chance for that early on. In the end though, the grinding nature of Murray should take its toll and the Scot should find himself in position to please the partisan crowd.
Murray wins in four sets