Will Berdych's brilliance continue?
WIMBLEDON, England -- Winners write the history, it has been observed, and Rafael Nadal has won more than his share of tennis tournaments.
He has beaten Tomas Berdych the past six times they've met -- an imposing record that will weigh heavily on the Czech Republic player in Sunday's final. Or will it?
Berdych has remade himself and, with successive wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, he has shed the image of a talented big man with issues above the neck. The "New" Berdych has been virtually flawless in the past two majors, winning 11 of 12 matches.
Can he will himself to ignore his history of inconsistencies for one more match -- against one of the greatest players ever in the crucible of a final?
Our opinionated (some might use a harsher word) scribes weigh in:
What has been the biggest factor in Tomas Berdych's unconscious play at Wimbledon?
Greg Garber: He believes. It's been six years since that strapping 18-year-old kid from the Czech Republic took out Roger Federer in the Olympic Games of Athens. Suddenly, it's all coming together. He reached the final at Miami, the semifinals in Paris, and now he's playing in the first major final of his career. He's always had the big serve and the forehand. His movement has improved and now his head is on board for the ride.
Kamakshi Tandon: He's always had the ability to play like this; the question is why he's suddenly doing it these past two Slams. It seems like the biggest difference is the confidence and composure he has started bringing into big matches, like the one against Andy Murray at the French Open, or against Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. According to Berdych and his team, the win over Federer in Miami -- where Berdych saved a match point -- and the semifinal run at the French -- on the surface where he's the least comfortable -- were a big mental boost.
Ravi Ubha: It's mostly to do with his motivation and determination. He's always had the game, although moving forward and putting away easy volleys are a relatively new phenomenon. The Czech has even dug up some difficult volleys. As good friend Radek Stepanek pointed out this week, Berdych isn't letting the little things bother him, a transformation women's finalist Vera Zvonareva can relate to. He refocuses quicker and doesn't drift.
Is there any doubt now that Rafael Nadal is the best player in tennis?
Garber: Not in my mind. If he wins Wimbledon, that would give him back-to-back Euro Slams for the second time in three years. That's a rare feat that folks like Bjorn Borg and Federer have been able to achieve. A lot of this question, of course, depends on Federer. He looked tired and beat-up in losing in back-to-back major quarterfinals. Can he pull it back together in time for the U.S. Open -- Rafa's most difficult Slam to win? Even if Federer does, I'll take Nadal to win in Australia 2011.
Tandon: Well, there isn't any doubt that Rafael Nadal is the best player in tennis right now. The question is what happens when the tour hits the hard courts. No question Nadal had had excellent hard-court results, and in this form, he'll be the player to beat through the rest of the summer. But he's never yet managed to get through the U.S. summer swing without getting too banged up to properly contend at the U.S. Open. There are a few more players who fancy their chances against him on concrete.
Ubha: No. It's not even close. How can there be any doubt? He won the French Open, dropping two sets during the clay-court season, and has now made it to yet another Wimbledon final. Nadal knew he had to pick it up against Andy Murray in the semifinals and was menacingly aggressive from the baseline. He picked his spots coming in and won 23 of 26 points at the net.
Who will win, and how many sets?
Garber: Nadal in four. He's usually money in these major finals. The only two times he's lost were here -- to Federer. I'll take Rafa against Berdych, who is playing in his very first final and, for the first time this fortnight, will play like it.
Tandon: Nadal in five. We know what to expect from Nadal, so a lot depends on Berdych's form. If he hits huge and plays lights-out, there could be a quick, stunning upset. But physically and mentally, there's no one better than Nadal at digging into points, which is why he's still a significant favorite to come through.
Ubha: Nadal in five. Nadal has won six straight against Berdych, but that was the old Berdych. If Berdych's serve is firing, Nadal's chances to break will be few and far between. His conversion rate will need to be similar to what it was against Murray. Berdych, too, is on a high after beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, showing little or no nerves in both victories. In Nadal, though, Berdych faces someone who defends better than Djokovic and is striking the ball better from the baseline than Federer. No one on the tour is as mentally tough as the Czech's final opponent.
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