The favourite meets one of the pre-tournament outside chances tonight for a place in the final four in what is shaping up as a blockbuster quarterfinal.
The top seed at Australian Open 2013, most expect Novak Djokovic to reach the final, if not win his third consecutive title here and carve out a piece of history for himself.
Leading into the tournament when all the commentators, past players and random celebrities were asked for their tip and their ‘smoky’, Tomas Berdych’s name was one that came up regularly.
The fifth seed in Melbourne, Berdych has played in one major final – Wimbledon 2010 – where he upset Djokovic in the semifinals. That, however, is Berdych’s only win against Djokovic in 12 meetings. It’s not a great record.
So why does Big Berd struggle with the Djoker? For the same reason most do – he’s too consistent. The world No.1 rarely misses, and in the past three years he has upped his fitness to the point where he looks like he could run a treadmill into the ground.
But in Djokovic’s past two matches, an interesting trend has come to light. In his third round match against wily Czech Radek Stepanek, Djokovic was pushed for three sets. When asked how he did it, Stepanek revealed the following:
“I think to beat him the way to play is to serve really well, hold your service games and distract his game from the back because his game from the back is, as I said, the best in the world.
“Play something different. If you play ordinary tennis like everybody does, hitting from the back of the court, he’s going to get you sooner or later.”
Stepanek’s “something different” was his net play – he approached the net 67 times, a big number in today’s tennis. And it seems that this is something that Stanislas Wawrinka picked up on.
When Wawrinka faced Djokovic in the fourth round, he came forward 58 times for a return of 40 points, not to be sneezed at.
Has Berdych taken note? Only time will tell. In his previous match, against fellow big man Kevin Anderson, Berdych rushed the net 29 times, so it will be interesting to see if he comes to net more against Djokovic.
When he addressed the media in the lead-up to Tuesday’s match, Berdych gave little away.
“Now I felt pretty good. I mean, I just play every single match by three sets. Everything was fine. I felt physically well. I hope that's actually now the big match gonna [be] waiting for me.”
Djokovic meanwhile is coming off a big match. He needed just over five hours on court to put a stop to Wawrinka, and will be doing everything in his power to assist his body’s recovery in time for Tuesday night’s match.
Djokovic famously played back-to-back five-set matches to win the Australian Open last year, so we know he can do it. What’s more, Djokovic thrives on these occasions, which is bad news for Berdych.
“In the end these kind of matches, after five hours, definitely help your confidence,” Djokovic said after his match against Wawrinka finished in the early hours of Monday morning.
“These are the matches that you live for, you practice for. You want to be on the centre court and play on such a high level for five hours. It's incredible.”
Incredible is what Berdych will need to be if he’s to put an end to Djokovic’s campaign.