Tomas Berdych may have the winning chip that can help him reach his first grand slam final in five years and it is in the form of Dani Vallverdu, the former coach of his semi-final opponent Andy Murray.
The Czech world No7 drew up the perfect plan with Vallverdu to defeat third-seeded Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals yesterday – a stunning 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (5) win that saw Berdych end his 17-match eight-year losing streak to the Spaniard.
Berdych struck 46 winners to just 21 unforced errors and butchered Nadal’s second serve to become only the third player to hand the world No3 a bagel at a grand slam, and the first since 2006.
He will now go back to the drawing board to formulate a new strategy to defeat his next target, the sixth-seeded Murray, who had Vallverdu as his hitting partner and substitute coach from 2010 until the end of 2014.
Berdych teamed up with Vallverdu following the Venezuelan’s split with Murray and will surely receive the ins and outs of his opponent’s game from his new coach.
“Definitely it might be an advantage for us,” said Berdych, who has now reached a second consecutive Australian Open semi-final.
Nadal’s 17 successive wins over Berdych is a joint ATP record and the Czech is thrilled he has finally stopped the bleeding against the Mallorcan.
“It feels great. I mean, really the good thing is, the plan that we put together was the right one. Everything was working. I was able to execute it really well,” said Berdych, paying tribute to Vallverdu.
“Dani changed a lot of things. He brought a lot of positive things. And the best is I’m really able to execute them really, really quickly. I’m really happy. I was playing a really good game against Rafa. But I just need to look forward.”
Murray, a three-time runner-up in Melbourne, kept his clean record against Australian opposition intact by defeating 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 to move into his fifth semi-final here.
The Scot was forced to bring out his smartest tactics to play through breezy conditions and use them to his advantage against the explosive Kyrgios, who was playing a grand slam match on Rod Laver Arena for the first time.
Despite putting up a fight in the second set, Kyrgios was no match for Murray, who was composed throughout the 125-minute encounter. “I said to him at the net ‘this is your time, go get 'em’. I think he’s got a really good chance of winning the whole thing,” Kyrgios said of Murray after the match.
Murray has a 4-6 losing record against Berdych, and will be facing the Czech for the first time since Vallverdu joined his team. Murray had revealed earlier this month that things had turned a little sour between him and Vallverdu in the final weeks before they parted ways. The two-time grand slam champion is playing down the impact Vallverdu might have on the outcome of the upcoming semi-final.
“I also know what Dani thinks of Berdych’s game because he’s told me, so it works both ways,” Murray said sarcastically.
“When I finished working with Miles MacLagan he started working with Marcos Baghdatis. I played against Baghdatis a few times. I played him at the Olympics. I played him in Tokyo. I didn’t really have an issue with it.
“But, again, I don't know, maybe I'll find it weird on the day. It's just something that you deal with as a player. My goal isn't to beat Dani, my goal is to beat Berdych. So I won't think about that in the next days.”
Meanwhile, Nadal admits he was outclassed by Berdych but says it is all part of the process of coming back from injury.
“The process always is not easy. When you have injuries, the comebacks are difficult. I have to take the positive things. Without being at my top level I was able to be in the quarter-finals. It is not a bad result at all for me,” said the 14-time major champion.