Novak Djokovic looks to bounce back from his first loss since August. Djokovic stands at 1-1 in the Stan Smith group after dropping his last match to Roger Federer. He faces Tomas Berdych for the second straight tournament after beating him in two tight sets in Paris earlier this month.
(1) Novak Djokovic - (6) Tomas Berdych
Djokovic will be in a rare spot on Thursday; trying to bounce back from a loss. Roger Federer saw to that after ending the Serb's 23 match wining streak 7-5, 6-2 on Tuesday. Djokovic drew a bit of flack from the Swiss after telling reporters that he thought he more or less handed Federer the match with his sloppy play. Federer took a little exception to the comments, saying he thought he had a little bit to do with the way Djokovic played and the outcome of the match. The Serb could have been closer to correct as his second set featured the world number one winning just 25 percent of his first serves. Federer took 15 of those 20 points in the set. Djokovic was broken four times in the match.
Berdych slipped to 0-2 in the Round Robin stage with a loss to Kei Nishikori. The 8th seed took the Czech down in three sets 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Berdych had some chances early in the third to take control, but could not come through. The Czech's continued problem with getting his first serve in play consistently was big again. In the two sets he lost, Berdych struggled to get half of his first serves in play. That left Nishikori plenty of looks at his second serve. Nishikori won 26 of the 52 points played on second serve for the match. The loss has Berdych on the edge of failing to make it out of the Round Robin stage for the fifth time in six trips.
Paris Masters Meeting Was Exceptional
Djokovic holds a commanding 20-2 record against Berdych overall. Their most recent meeting though was extremely tight at this month's BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. Djokovic simply came up bigger in two tie breaks as he edged the Czech 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8). Berdych had set points in both sets, but could not get the key point when he needed it. The Paris meeting was their third this season with Djokovic at 3-0 in those matches. Berdych did take a set in both Dubai and Monte Carlo. This match will mark their fifth all-time at the Tour Finals. Djokovic is 4-0 and has only dropped a single set in those matches.
The Wrath Of Nole Could Be Looming
It has been three months since Djokovic has had to rebound from a loss. Coincidentally, the last loss was also to Roger Federer in Cincinnati. The task for the Serb is simple in this match. Win and he is in the semifinals. The result of the Federer-Nishikori match would have no bearing on him that way. The top seed could feasibly advance due to tie breakers even if he loses. In that scenario, he needs a Federer win over Nishikori and must win at least one set off Berdych in a loss.
Djokovic may have irked Federer a tad with his comments about handing him the match on Tuesday, but it also gave an inclination that the Serb is going to play much sharper on Thursday. That could be bad news for Berdych who actually could still qualify for the semifinals with a perfect storm scenario. Berdych has to win in straight sets and then get a win from Federer. That is the only way he can advance.
There will be no surprises from either side after meeting just a few weeks ago. Berdych must be aggressive and try to make the points short to have a chance in this one. It would also be to his benefit if he served at a level close to what he did in Paris. In that match, the Czech was getting his first serve in more consistently at 59 percent. He won 80 percent of the points played off his first serve compared to just 43 percent on his second serve. The more second serves that Djokovic sees, the more likely this is to be a lopsided affair.
For the Serb, he would love to engage Berdych in rallies and work the Czech from side to side and back and forth. Quite simply, Berdych cannot match Djokovic's athleticism and will be forced into trying to finish points in spots he is not comfortable. It seems unlikely that Berdych will recreate his Paris form based on the first two matches in London. With Djokovic in need of a win, the Serb should take care of business a bit more quickly in this one.
Prediction: Djokovic wins in straight sets.