Tomas Berdych has been underwhelming this year. Nevertheless, he has an excellent chance to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals when he faces French 32nd seed Lucas Pouille on Wednesday.
Berdych has suffered from a significant dip in form over the first half of the season. He’s failed to reach a final and has only beaten two top 10 players – Richard Gasquet and the slumping David Ferrer. Berdych has played Novak Djokovic three times, Roger Federer once and Andy Murray once – and he has been routinely beaten in straight sets on each occasion. He’s dropped from six to nine in the rankings from the beginning of the season – however all it takes for a rebound on tour is one successful tournament in a big event. And perhaps Berdych is on the cusp of something special over the next few days at SW19.
Honestly Berdych had kind of fallen off the radar when it comes to contenders at the majors. He’s the nearly-man of tennis, constantly reaching the quarter-finals and semis of slams but falling when it matters most. The Czech’s maiden slam final remains the 2010 Wimbledon decider – and it would have been heart-wrenching for him to see the likes of Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic overtake him and capture major silverware over the last couple of seasons. But the fact remains that when Berdych is firing he can topple anyone on tour – it just hasn’t happened as frequently in recent years.
Berdych has enjoyed a relatively comfortable draw at Wimbledon so far, but he’s still had to dig himself out of challenging situations. He was stretched to a fourth set tiebreaker in the opening round against Ivan Dodig and was again made to win in four against a tiring Alexander Zverev in the Round of 32. Berdych then squandered multiple match points and was subsequently forced to play five sets over two days to complete a fourth round victory over compatriot Jiri Vesely. Now Berdych’s fortuitous draw continues when he takes on a man who before this tournament had never won a match on grass in his career.
And speaking of fortuitous, Lucas Pouille has sure had his fair share of luck over the last few months. But while he’s been fortunate, you still have to be good enough to take advantage of the situations that present themselves – and Pouille has been consistently solid in exploiting the opportunities in front of him.
Lucas Pouille (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
It all started for Pouille at the Miami Open back in March. The Frenchman secured his first win over a top 10 player when he defeated David Ferrer in a scrappy late night third round clash on Centre Court. Pouille then backed that win and Round of 16 showing up with a victory over Richard Gasquet at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, ultimately reaching the third round. The 22-year-old then continued his great form by reaching his first ATP final at Bucharest, going down to Fernando Verdasco.
But Pouille wasn’t done there. After losing in the final round of qualifying at the Rome Masters, Pouille was elevated into the main draw as a lucky loser, where he defeated Ernests Gulbis and Ferrer again, before receiving a walkover from Juan Monaco in the quarters. All of a sudden Pouille had gone from losing in qualifying to appearing in his first ever Masters 1000 semi-final – where he was subsequently trounced 6-2 6-1 by Andy Murray.
Pouille suffered a disappointing loss to qualifier Andrej Martin at the French Open and then bowed out of his two Wimbledon lead-up events at Stuttgart and Halle in the opening round – meaning he would be taking a 0-4 career record on grass into the All England Club. But Pouille has improved rapidly throughout the opening week, defeating Marius Copil, Donald Young and Juan Martin del Potro, before prevailing in an epic Round of 16 clash with Bernard Tomic, winning 10-8 in the fifth to secure his first grand slam quarter-final. Pouille’s ranking has gone from No. 78 to begin the season to a projected mark of No. 21 after this tournament. If he beats Berdych he will crack the top 20. Quite remarkable for a player who hadn’t really showed any signs of this rapid rise and who had failed to win a grand slam match outside of the French Open before this tournament.
It will be Berdych and Pouille’s first meeting on tour. We all know how Berdych plays – big serve and powerful flat, deep groundstrokes that pushes his opponent behind the baseline. Pouille is a solid all-round and compact player, with his forehand being his biggest strength. Pouille has proven his ability to defeat players – top 10 players – that aren’t performing up to scratch this season. Berdych can’t afford to take his encounter lightly, but you’d think he’ll have too much firepower and his experience should see him progress to the final four.