By Jane Voigt
Tomas Berdych and Lucie Safarova used to be a couple. They dated for nine years and called it quits. It seemed a natural course since they were young teens when they first met at the elite academy courts of the Czech Republic, their home.
Lucie was loyal, as was Tomas, during their time together. They traveled side-by-side, were on hand for each others matches, and frequented player parties as a couple. What provoked the break remains veiled. But Tomas began showing up with super model Ester Satorova a few months after bidding adieu to Lucie, his childhood sweetheart.
Aside from their differences off court, Berdych and Safarova share similarities on court.
They have beautiful strokes, which seem to come out of the Czech Republic like cars roll off assembly lines in Asia … smooth and technically flawless. Their arms move impeccably through the strike zone. They keep their heads down and their long legs bent for balance. They step in to their shots, maximizing the pace from opponents. They are beautiful to watch, except when they lose.
Berdych has had a great start to the season, perhaps one of his best. He’s won 16 of his 18 matches. He won his 8th ATP career singles title in Rotterdam, and lost a 5-set semifinal thriller to eventual Australian Open Champion Stanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne. In Dubai Berdych lost to Roger Federer in the final. So for Tomas to lose today in the second round of a Masters 1000 event to a player ranked No. 53 — 46 62 64 — was not on the horizon. Expectations pointed to a deep drive in the California desert venue.
“He’s a tough opponent,” Berdych told the press. “[He] really handled the tough situation today well. Anything I touched was basically bad and was wrong. It [was] definitely my worst match that I had this year. I was late everywhere. I was not hitting the ball cleanly and that’s it.”
All credit to the Spaniard, Bautista Agut. He notched his third win against a top 10 competitor and moved on to the 3rd round to meet the Flying Finn Jarkko Nieminen.
Minutes before Berdych flopped, Safarova (No. 26) did the same against the hot Romanian Simona Halep (No. 6). They split the first two sets, the same scenario as Berdych and Bautista Agut. Lucie’s performance in set two was forceful. She optimized her opportunities, took advantage with her lefty serve, and keep her mind calm.
In the third, though, her wheels wobbled as did Halep’s. Over the course of the set, there were five breaks of serve. Unfortunately for Safarova the last went against her, and Halep walked away with the win, 62 46 64.
The last game was bizarre yet familiar to fans who have watched Safarova over the years. Shots she had not used throughout the match, she put in play. Her go-to backhand misfired. It was as if her tank read empty, a rapid leak of sensibility and experience vaporizing at the worse time.
She shares these characteristics with Berdych no matter the distance they have between themselves. Steady through a large percentage of a match with blasts of brilliance throughout. Pundits and fans watch in awe of their grace and determination. But, then, a reversal of fortune so drastic it leaves people dumbfounded. Tennis is a mental game. Those that prevail have a lock-tight perspective, can stay with each point, and do not waver at closing time. Berdych and Safarova are not two of the fortunate ones.