Recent semi-finalist at the U.S. Open, Tomáš Berdych has been leading the way in Czech men's tennis for almost 10 years. This weekend more than ever, as the world number 7 will try to help his country qualify for the final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas at the expense of Argentina. The player has an undeniable talent, but also a short temper that makes him one of the most hated players on tour. Rightfully?
Wimbledon, June 2006: Tomas Berdych is playing against Fabrice Santoro in the second round. Exasperated by the unusual style of his opponent, the Czech decided to mock him wickedly by mimicking him overtly. "He was really wrong" recalled recently the Frenchman, who has since retired. He also remembers the deplorable, unsporting game of his young opponent: "When I was about to serve for the match, he pretended to be injured, called the physio and stopped the game for fifteen minutes. He really distracted me. After the game, he said at the press conference: "When I called the physio, I had absolutely nothing wrong with my knee; it was just to annoy Fabrice." Although failing to be classy, at least he's honest.
Anyway, that's how the legendary bad reputation of the Czech started on the ATP Tour and the least we can say is that he has done nothing to improve his image since. Again in 2006, at the Madrid tournament, he fiercely pointed his finger to his lips before throwing a dark look at Rafael Nadal, whom he had just beaten, and to the crowd. A not-so-elegant way to show his joy after beating the king on his home turf... In 2008, it was another French player, Michael Llodra, with whom he had a heated argument following a referee’s decision, refusing to shake hands with his opponent at the end of the match as players normally do. Last January, Nicolas Almagro would receive the same treatment, as Berdych considered that the Spaniard had deliberately targeted him on a passing shot.
“I don’t care”
These are only a few examples among many others. Breaches of fair play, endless pee breaks, discussions with the referees, whining... Despite an undeniable talent, Tomáš Berdych isn’t loved, either by his opponents, or by the public. He knows it and comes to terms with it very well. "I don't care" he invariably replies when asked about it. "I've known Tomáš for a very long time and I've never had a problem with him, says journalist Martina Kučerová, from the magazine iDNES. I respect the way he communicates only through official means." However, she concedes that "he can sometimes be very cold, especially when he loses."
A sore loser, Tomáš Berdych? Michal Horejsi, sports editor at the Lidové Noviny, recognizes that the champion is, at first, quite unfriendly. In all circumstances. "He's a professional, he goes to press conferences, keeps his Facebook page updated and I've never seen him flipping out. Of itself, this doesn’t make him a nice guy. It’s difficult to understand him for he doesn't show his emotions." This is the only explanation to analyse the bad reputation of the Czech player internationally. "He’s withdrawn, never leaving anyone the opportunity to probe his personality. That's how it is, and you have to respect that."
Murray, the example to follow?
It's true that the strapping 26 year-old is not the first, and will not be the last, player to have remote contact with the fans, the press and his opponents. Marcelo Rios before him was already known for his taciturn mood, just like Robin Söderling now... Nevertheless, even within his own country, the behaviour of the current flagship of Czech tennis is not always appreciated. The comparison with his compatriot and partner in the Czech team in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, Radek Stepanek - "an emotional guy, very funny and who loves to communicate", says Michal Horejsi - doesn't play in his favour.
Considered as a kid as a huge talent in the making, Tomáš Berdych quickly had to endure the pressure of a tennis-mad nation desperately waiting for a successor to Ivan Lendl. "His status is difficult to deal with" says Martina Kučerová, while her colleague sees similarities between the demands of Czechs towards Berdych and "the one experienced by Andy Murray in Britain". The same Murray who beat him in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open and seems to have reached a milestone mentally recently. More mature, quieter. Berdych should try to take inspiration from him, because it’s well known: the winners are always beautiful. A victory in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas or in a Grand Slam and people will no longer speak of the bad temper of Tomáš. Only of his talent.
By Régis Delanoë