2017 Qatar ExxonMobil Open SF Preview: Andy Murray vs Tomas Berdych

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(1) Andy Murray vs (3) Tomas Berdych

Head-2-Head: 10-6 in favor of Murray
Last Meeting: Murray def. Berdych 7-6 (9), 7-5 at the Paris Masters (2016)

Quarterfinal Recap

Murray had another tough match after struggling some to shake away from Gerald Melzer in the second round. In the quarters, he was broken at-love to open the match against Nicolas Almagro. As he often does though, Murray would battle back to even up the set at 4-4 and then take the opener in a tiebreak. Almagro would continue to be a tough nut to crack in set two, but Murray secured a break in the 11th game and then closed out the set at 7-5 for the win. Credit goes to Almagro who fought off nine of 12 break chances with Murray saving three of five against his serve. Murray said the wind also factored into the match, which made conditions very tough for both players.

As for the Berdman, the Czech edged Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals 7-5, 6-3. The win came after Tsonga beat Berdych last week in the Abu Dhabi exhibition. Thursday’s match saw Berdych do his best on the big points as the key difference. He saved seven of seven break chances, with more than half coming in the final game as he tried to close things out. Tsonga was broken twice on three chances. Otherwise, statistically speaking it was close to a draw when you compare everything else. Berdych chipped in nine aces and his first serve was again a big weapon, notching 76 percent of the points.

Thermometer Time

Murray started well in Doha by bageling Jeremy Chardy in his first set played, before having to fight through a tiebreak to finish the Frenchman off in two. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of his week as Murray has been forced to play a tiebreak in each of his other two matches. To his credit, he’s come through them all unscathed. Still, he’s had to grind out wins a little more than one would expect with identical 7-6, 7-5 scorelines in the past two rounds against Gerald Melzer and Nicolas Almagro. The playing conditions, which have been a little tricky might have something to do with that, but Murray still needs to rev his game up some at this point. Temperature reading – he might be about to get a fever for winning a title, but first he needs the cure – more cowbell? No, beat Berdych.

As for Berdych, his serve has helped carry him this week. He opened with a tough 7-6 (1), 6-2 win over qualifier Alessandro Giannessi. Things got messy for a set in round two before he bounced Jiri Vesely 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-1 and then he had some slight difficult finishing off Tsonga in the final game of the quarters. Overall though, Berdych should be pleased with the results after dropping his first two matches in exhibition play in Abu Dhabi, where Rafael Nadal soundly beat him to open the season 6-0, 6-4. I feel his temperature rising.

Cracking Skulls

Murray has owned Berdych the last two seasons. The Scot has won six straight against the Czech and dropped just one set. The streak started at the Australian Open in 2015 and confinued last season as Murray beat Berdych on clay, grass and hard surfaces. Murray holds a 5-2 edge over Berdych in matches on outdoor hard courts during their careers with the last coming in Shanghai in 2015. That was a 6-1, 6-3 smash job in favor of Murray. Berdych’s last win over Murray came at the Cincinnati Masters in 2013. Berdych will also be hoping to reverse a trend of getting beat by Top 10 players. He went 4-22 against them over the course of the last two seasons with just one win over a Top 10 player (Ferrer) last year.

Strategy Session

So where does someone with so little success against the Top 10 and just as little recently against Andy Murray go to try and snatch a win? That’s what Goran Ivanisevic is charged with finding in this spot. Berdych brought the Croat into his camp last year after ridding himself of former Murray coach Dani Vallverdu. Perhaps Ivanisevic helped some as the two were together when Murray and Berdych last met. The 7-6, 7-5 defeat for the Czech was one of the closer matches the two had contested over the past two years.

Where Berdych did well in that Paris meeting was blasting his first serve to the tune of 85 percent of the points won. Where he did not do well was against Murray’s serve, where the Scot won 86 percent of his first serve points. It was still a very tight match with Murray scoring two breaks of serve to just one for Berdych. I’d venture to say if Berdych only faces the three break chances he saw last year, he’d be happy, but hoping to get more than the three he saw against Murray.

So, I think it starts with targeting the Murray serve. It hasn’t been perfect this week and if Berdych can get some looks at second serves consistently, he might have a shot to secure some breaks. Where Berdych must be perfect to pull off an upset is consolidating any breaks that he can get. Murray is one of the best in the business at breaking back against an opponent and that simply breaks the spirit of an opponent. Easier said than done considering Murray’s prowess in return, but Berdych has been good on-serve this week. He’ll need to be great against Andy.

Off the ground, Berdych will always do well to keep the points shorter against Murray. From a fitness standpoint and sheer athleticism, Berdych just doesn’t compare to the world #1. If Berdych is too passive and engages in longer rallies, Murray will make him pay with long and physically punishing points. Berdych’s forehand is the weapon that can be used for shorter points and he’d do well to make Andy hit as many backhands as he can. Murray is tough to break down off both wings, but I still think focusing on Murray’s backhand is where Berdych can help himself the most. At the least, perhaps it helps him with court positioning.

AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …

All eyes will be peeking at the draw and imaging and Djokovic-Murray final, but both players need to avoid looking ahead. I think Murray in particular needs to remain focused on the task at-hand. Berdych is hungry to get himself back to being a bit more relevant again, rather than just someone hanging onto the final spot in the Top 10. This is a big moment for him to gather momentum to start the season if he can score the big upset. Murray definitely has shown some vulnerability this week, but managed to charge through to the semifinals.

I don’t think this is an easy one for Murray despite the recent lopsided results in his favor. I’m not sure Berdych believes he can beat Murray, but these are the matches that he brought Ivanisevic into his camp to help him win. A semifinal in a 250 might not be a “big” match, but the circumstance and opponent give it a big match feel. I’m not quite there to call the upset, but I would not be surprised if Berdych gave Murray a run for his money on Friday.

The Pig Predicts

Murrays wins in three sets

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