ROME — Tomas Berdych upset Novak Djokovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open on Friday, snapping an 11-match losing streak against the world No. 1. Here are three thoughts on the two-hour, 22-minute match:
• Letdowns plague Djokovic: For all the questions surrounding Djokovic’s health after he sprained his ankle in Davis Cup in April and looked on the verge of withdrawing last month from Monte Carlo (where he went on to topple eight-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the final), it’s been the Serb’s mental lapses in his last two matches that have raised questions for his French Open campaign.
Last week, he lost to Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (6), 6-7 (8), 6-3 in his opening match at the Madrid Open. Djokovic stormed back from a 2-4 deficit in the second set, but he was broken immediately in the third set and Dimitrov held on for the biggest victory of his career.
On Friday, Djokovic led 6-2, 5-2, poised to defeat Berdych for the 14th time in 15 matches. But Djokovic dropped the next five games to lose the set and looked both frustrated and exasperated throughout the third set, during which Berdych made a break in the third game stand up despite a wobbly finish.
Djokovic also squandered a 3-0 third-set lead in a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 loss to Juan Martin Del Potro in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open in March. With Friday’s loss, Djokovic fell to 148-5 when winning the first set since 2011, according to the ATP Tour.
“I’m disappointed because I wanted to do well in Rome,” said Djokovic, who has failed to make the finals in five of his last six ATP Masters 1000 tournaments. “I thought I played really well in the first two matches [this week] and today also up 6-2, 5-2. It’s just sport.
“I will take some time off now and try to get ready for Paris,” Djokovic said of the French Open, which begins May 26. “It’s the most important event of the year for me. I’m really looking forward to that. I know I can play well on clay, but I shouldn’t allow myself to have these drops during the match and hopefully it doesn’t happen in Roland Garros.”
• Berdych hangs on after rallying: Berdych has an unfortunate reputation of being a very unreliable closer thanks to some memorable collapses against top players earlier in his career. He seemed to be in danger of another one Friday when he blew three consecutive match points while serving at 5-4 in the third set. But Berdych didn’t panic after squandering the 40-0 lead. At deuce, he hit a service winner wide. And on his fourth match point, he fired his ninth ace.
The game has always been there for the 27-year-old Berdych, who has made the semifinals or better at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. It’s good to see further proof that the mind is getting there, too.
• Embracing ATP parity: Here’s a look at the most surprising semifinalists at the five Masters tournaments this year: Del Potro in Indian Wells; Tommy Haas and Richard Gasquet in Miami; Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo; Stanislas Wawrinka in Madrid; and now Berdych and Benoit Paire in Rome. Del Potro and Berdych may be the least surprising names, but Del Potro had to beat Andy Murray — who had led the head-to-head 5-1 — in the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals (followed by Djokovic in the semifinals) and Berdych needed to oust Djokovic to earn his spot this week. I enjoy watching these guys in the second tier and below step up. Now let’s see them translate it to the Slams.