Tomas Berdych gave himself “eight or nine” out of 10 for his performance in his semi-final win over Novak Djokovic but will be looking for yet more improvement in Sunday’s Wimbledon final.
The 24-year-old 12th seed showed his giant-killing act against Roger Federer was no fluke by overpowering his Serbian opponent 6-3 7-6 (11/9) 6-3 in the first semi to reach his maiden grand slam final.
The world number 13 was watched by his father Martin and mother Hana, who flew in from the Czech Republic for today’s match, as he became the first Czech finalist since Ivan Lendl in 1987.
Djokovic, whose run to the semi-finals enabled him to overtake Federer in the rankings, 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 of his own before bringing the tie-break to a sudden and anti-climactic end with a double fault.
The Serbian, 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.
Berdych had done enough to win and, asked to award himself marks out of 10, left some room for improvement.
“At least it’s going to be eight or nine,” he said. “I didn’t play best tennis but I was playing what I needed to finish it in three sets. That’s important.
“It shouldn’t have gone to the tie-break because I was serving to close the set. I just made a couple of mistakes and lost my serve.
“Then again I had 6-3 up and gave some set points to Novak. I just made it a little more complicated.
“Finally I just made it on my side and then he started to be really, really down, I think more mentally than physically.”
After years of under-achievement, it is all starting to come together for Berdych, whose talents were recognised as far back as 2003 when he first entered the tour.
It was generally thought he lacked the psychological edge to make those talents count but the perception began to change earlier this year in Miami, where he beat three top-10 players in a row, including Federer, and his big breakthrough came in Paris last month with his first grand slam semi-final.
He has brought plenty of confidence into Wimbledon and, after going one step further than at the French Open, will now seek to become the first Czech winner since Jan Kodes, who triumphed in the strike-hit year of 1973.
“It’s a great feeling,” Berdych said. “I’m just trying to enjoy today’s victory and then tomorrow I’ll get ready for the final.
“I’m still not done yet here – one more to go. That’s why I’m here and why I’m trying to win every match.
“I’m playing well, feeling great, still healthy and I hope I have some energy still left there for the last one. I’m looking forward to the next one and definitely do not fear anybody.”
Djokovic faded badly after his second-set nightmare but at least he was more gracious in defeat than Federer, who argued that injuries prevented him playing his true game.
“Nobody likes losing but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t deserve to win today,” Djokovic said. “It’s just as simple as that.
“I congratulate my opponent because he was a better player. He played a great match and a great tournament. He’s just a better player today on the court.
“When I had my chances, I didn’t take them. I wasn’t going for the shots too much. I was kind of waiting for him to make a mistake. I was wrong. I wasn’t able to find the rhythm that I had in the last couple of matches.”
Berdych will go into the final as an underdog but Djokovic insists he has the capability to spring one more surprise.
“If he plays the way he played against me and Federer, he definitely has chances,” Djokovic said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the finals. He has a big serve. He has a good game for grass court. He has improved his game and the results are coming.”