Tomas Berdych will take sky-high confidence into his first Wimbledon final tomorrow as he aims to complete a demolition job on the world’s top three players.
Having slain reigning champion Roger Federer and new world number two Novak Djokovic in his last two matches, the 24-year-old giant-killer has now trained his sling-shot on 2008 Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal, who will go into the final as hot favourite after toppling Andy Murray in straight sets.
“Rafa has experience of grand slam finals, unlike me, so I will just try to concentrate on myself and keep playing my tennis,” said Berdych.
The world number 13 has produced the best tennis of his career to reach his maiden slam final and hopes to succeed where even Ivan Lendl failed by becoming only the second man from the Czech Republic to win the Wimbledon crown.
Berdych, who has the chance to emulate Jan Kodes’ victory from the strike-hit tournament of 1973, has lost his last six meetings with Nadal, including a straight-sets defeat in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2007, but is in the form of his life.
He kick-started his career in March in Miami, where he beat three top-10 players in a row including Federer, and his big breakthrough came in the French Open last month when he reached his first grand slam semi-final.
“I’m quite happy that it’s quite soon after Paris,” said Berdych after yesterday’s 6-3 7-6 (11/9) 6-3 win against Djokovic. “The memories from there are still really fresh.
“I just took all the positive things from Paris and showed that I learned from those experience. It worked pretty well.”
Berdych, who had not managed to win a set off Djokovic in their two previous meetings, was in impressive control throughout their semi-final.
The 23-year-old Serbian, whose run to the semi-finals enabled him to overtake Federer in the world rankings and rise to number two, was competitive in the first set and had a glorious chance to level matters in a dramatic second set which tested the mental strength of both men.
The Czech served at 6-5 for a two-set lead only to drop his serve for just the sixth time in the Championships, and then re-asserted himself to lead 6-2 in the tie break.
Amazingly, Berdych squandered five set points and Djokovic had two set points before bringing the tie-break to a sudden and anti-climactic end with a double fault.
Djokovic, who was hoping to mark the occasion with the 300th win of his career, never recovered from that setback as he quickly subsided to his 99th defeat but, in contrast to Federer when he blamed injury for his loss to Berdych, he was gracious in defeat.
“He played a great match and a great tournament,” said Djokovic. “He’s just a better player today.”
Djokovic also believes Nadal would be foolish to underestimate the challenge of the rejuvenated Czech.
“If he plays the way he played against me and Federer, he definitely has chances,” he said.