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Not shy of giant-killing

Friday, 29 September 2006 - 7:50pm IST

Berdych is most uncomfortable answering questions about his girlfriend but ask him what you want about the game, finds Bikash Mohapatra.

This 21-year-old Czech is currently enjoying the best phase of his career. Introverted, he is most uncomfortable answering questions about his girlfriend but ask him what you want about the game, finds Bikash Mohapatra.

Up close and personal with Tomas Berdych 

An introvert: He turned 21 last Saturday (17 September). Wish him a belated happy birthday and the shy guy from the Czech Republic simply blushes, perhaps somewhat surprised.

“Is this the only interview I’ve to do?” he asks the coordinator, who fortunately for us replies in the affirmative. Even as he relaxes a bit and the conversation starts, one can make out that Tomas Berdych is an introvert, certainly not very comfortable answering too many questions at one stretch.

Volte-face: But watch the same guy on the court and he cuts a completely different figure, metamorphosing into an intimidating player with a big serve and a powerful forehand. He’s come a long way since he first grabbed the headlines — for beating Roger Federer at the 2004 Athens Olympics. And Berdych is content that he’s achieved so much so soon.

“I’m happy to have reached the top soon enough, in about a year-and-a-half. I mean in order to be ranked in the top 100, one has to play in the big tournaments and against the bigger players,” he says. “I’m fortunate to make it big very fast and not play the satellite and the futures events for long.”

Presently enjoying a career high ranking of 13, the Czech is still known to be a giantkiller than as a player to beat. Besides Federer, he has scalped top pros like Rafael Nadal, David Nalbandian, Lleyton Hewitt and Ivan Ljubicic, but failed to cash in on these upsets.

“When I play against the bigger opponents, I’m not expected to win and so, I’m under no pressure. But then I do tend to get a bit inconsistent,” he says. Does he attribute his big breakthrough at the Paris Masters last year to the withdrawal of top players from the field?

“Yeah, when a Federer or a Nadal are playing in a tournament, it is difficult to imagine anyone else winning it. If you had asked me before the start of the Paris Masters about my chances of winning it, I’d have replied ‘see you tomorrow’,” he admits. And now that he has a big title under his belt, does he fancy his chances of winning a Grand Slam?

“Yeah, with Federer and Nadal it’s going to be difficult though. But if it happens, why not?” he says. And which is the major which he feels he can win given an opportunity?

“The US Open,” pat comes the reply. “It’s the first major I played in and I’m more comfortable playing in it. Since it’s played on a hardcourt, I do have a chance of winning it.” Berdych lost in the fourth round of the Open this year to American James Blake.

Notebook Freak: Despite the fact that the rigorous tour schedule hardly gives him time to do anything, Berdych has found a way out. He prefers carrying a laptop along with him when he’s on tour, something which helps him catch up with the things he likes.

“I like watching movies and listening to music and that’s why I carry a laptop along with me always,” he says. “Otherwise I hardly get time to do anything besides practicing and playing tennis.” Besides, he also happens to be a big ice hockey fan and many of his friends play in the National Hockey League (NHL) in the United States.

“Ice hockey, along with football, is a very big sport in the Czech Republic and I also like it very much,” he says. Did he ever want to be a hockey player himself? “I have played ice hockey but I never wanted to make a career out of it,” he says.

Girl Friday: As we come towards the end of our conversation, we cannot help but ask him about his girlfriend, and fellow pro, Lucie Safarova — she’s the one who beat Sania Mirza in the WTA final at Forest Hills last year. So, when did the couple meet?

“Yeah, it’s about three years ago. And the fact that she also belongs to the same place as myself helped,” says the by-now-shy-again Berdych. Further questions about his lady love make the Czech very edgy.

“She’s also a tennis player and so we keep meeting each other on tour and also help and support each other at times,” he adds. And that is just about it from our Czech about his mate.

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