We are into the second week and down to the Final 8 in the Men's Draw at the Australian Open. Once again, it's the usual suspects leading the way. The Big Four minus one (Rafa Nadal is not in the Draw), are leading the charge to what has been the inevitable in recent Majors. And that is the domination of the major titles by the Top Four in the World. But there are some guys on the cusp who are hoping to kick down the door and enter that sacred ground.
We learned a lot about Berdych in 2012, particularly after taking out Roger Federer in the U.S. Open. And it was not necessarily the fact that he defeated Federer, but the way that he did. After jumping out to a two set lead, the expected happened. Federer battled back taking the third set and seized momentum. The Berdych of old may have caved right there, but he was able to fight off the rally taking the 4th and decisive set advancing to the semifinals.
Berdych is playing with a confidence unlike any point in his career.
“It’s a daily work, it’s really to go, to live with the fact that you’re playing tennis, do everything 100 per cent and then in the end that’s the way to how slowly getting to them and maybe one day to be really part of those four guys", Berdych recently said from Melbourne, when asked about breaking through the big four.
He has gone "all-in" recently in his pursuit to break through, giving 100 percent in every tournament he has entered. This is a guy who seems driven to crack that shell.
Berdych is in the position of breaking through as he faces top seed Novak Djokovic in the quarters in Melbourne. It is a daunting task but if there is an opportunity, this could be it. With Djokovic fresh off of a grueling five set victory over Stan Wawrinka, where the Serb admitted it felt like a Final rather than the middle of the tournament, maybe the stars have aligned. However, this is not Djokovic's first rodeo in following up a gut wrenching match only to find himself in another battle afterwards. He knows the path and has historically thrived.
Djokovic has owned Berdych in head to head matches, winning 11 of the 12 the pair have played. He has never lost to the 5 seed on the hard court. The two last met in Shanghai back in October where Djokovic won in straight sets. They met in the 2011 Australian Open where Djokovic cruised to victory. Is this a different Tomas Berdych? Stay tuned!
Tsonga, much like Berdych, made strides in 2012. Though he seemed to burn out late in the season, he seems to have rejuvenated in 2013. Tsonga has only dropped one set in the Australian Open and was impressive in his most recent match against 9th seed Richard Gasquet to find a spot in the quarterfinals.
The Frenchman faces Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Federer has yet to lose a set in the tournament.
While Federer holds an 8-3 advantage head to head, Tsonga has known success on the biggest stage. Tsonga defeated Federer at Wimbledon in 2011. They did not meet in 2012.
The 7th seed enters 2013 with something he did not have last year, a new coach. He calls upon Roger Rasheed for advice and credits him for a lot of his early success. "This year, I'm with Rog. It's just great to be with him. He gives me good advice, so I hope I will continue to play good tennis and hope we'll have some good victories together." Whether this will have any effect against the 17 time major champion, remains to be seen.
From a matchup standpoint, Ferrer seems to have the best chance to go deep into the tournament, out of those outside of the Big 4. Ferrer has a date with fellow Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro before potentially meeting the Berdych-Djokovic victor.
You have to like Ferrer's chances to stay in any match just on sheer hustle and determination. I liken him to a poor man's Jimmy Connors, an over achiever that despite his age, can never completely be counted out of a match. He is one of those guys you don't want to face due to the fact that he leaves every last drop on the court.
Ferrer has never lost to his fellow countryman Almagro, holding a 12-0 head to head advantage. Assuming he gets past Almagro, Ferrer has had some success against Novak Djokovic defeating the top seed 5 times in his career. However, Djokovic has won the last three meetings including a year ago in Melbourne in straight sets.
Ferrer has defeated Tomas Berdych 7 of the 10 times they have met. He has taken three out of their last 4 meetings, which all came on the indoor hard court.
It has been a relative breeze for Ferrer thus far in the tournament where he has taken down 16th seed Kei Nishikori and 28th seed Marcos Baghdatis in his path. And if history holds true against Almagro, he should be fresh if he were to have a shot against the Berdych-Djokovic winner.
Clearly, it will take the matches of their lives for any of these guys to crack the Big 4 and have an opportunity for an Australian Open title. But as we start the quarterfinals, these are three players to keep your eye on if you are looking for a dark horse who is capable of pulling the upset.
(photo of Tomas Berdych courtesy of Sky Sports)