Berdych out to avoid one-hit status

Last year's finalist desperate to avoid membership of Wimbledon's one-year wonder club.
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The Independent Online

A question mark hangs over Tomas Berdych as he returns to the scene of his finest hour. Can last year's Wimbledon runner-up build on his achievement or will he join the likes of Chris Lewis, Kevin Curren, MaliVai Washington, Cédric Pioline and Mark Philippoussis as one who never climbed the mountain again?

Wimbledon's list of champions over the last 30 years features many of the greatest players ever to wield a racket – Borg and McEnroe, Becker and Edberg, Sampras and Agassi, Federer and Nadal – but the roll-call of beaten finalists reveals a different story.

Lewis, brushed aside by John McEnroe in 1983, never won a title. Curren, beaten by Boris Becker two years later, won just five. Washington, who lost to Richard Krajicek in 1996, never made the world's top 10. Pioline, crushed by Sampras in 1997, won five titles in a 14-year career. Philippoussis, Federer's first victim in a Wimbledon final, in 2003, never realised his full potential.

Berdych has not reached a final since losing to Nadal at Wimbledon, after a run which saw him beat Federer in the quarter-finals, ending the latter's chances of making a seventh successive final. The 25-year-old Czech lost in the first round of the US Open and from August to the new year won only four times.

"I was in a new situation," he said. "Everyone was expecting too much from me. It was like: 'You've reached the semi-finals at the French Open, the final at Wimbledon, so what are you going to do next?' I heard it from every single corner. It doesn't help. It doesn't change anything. It doesn't help you to feel good on court. When people went on court against me they thought: 'OK, I'm playing against Berdych, let's try to beat him because he's had good results.'''

Berdych admitted that the situation had got to him by the time he lost to Federer in their next meeting, in Toronto. "I was thinking too much about the quarter-final at Wimbledon. I was thinking about things like ranking points, but it was much too early to be thinking about that. I was thinking too much about other things. All I can say is that it was an experience – and experiences aren't always good. Sometimes you have to go through bad experiences as well.''

Berdych can look uncomfortable in the spotlight, a fact reflected in the two places he calls home. He splits his time between Monaco, where he enjoys the anonymity, and Prostejov, an unassuming town in his home country. A big attraction there is the local tennis club, where many of the best Czech players of recent times, including Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek, have trained.

"Practising there with players like that helped me a lot," Berdych said. "Everybody told me: 'Why don't you stay in Prague? You have the airport there. It's much easier.' But I hate the big cities. Everything takes so long – getting to the courts, going home. In Prostejov it takes me four minutes to drive from my apartment to the club."

When Berdych set out on his professional career he was regarded as one of the best of a group that included Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils. At 6ft 5in and more than 14st, he has always given the ball a mighty thump, making up for a comparative lack of mobility. He was one of the first of his generation to succeed on the senior circuit, beating Federer at the Athens Olympics and winning his first Masters title the following year, at the age of 20. He has not been out of the world's top 30 since, but it was not until last summer that he made his Grand Slam breakthrough, first at the French Open, where he lost to Robin Soderling in a five-set semi-final, and then at Wimbledon.

He says he felt no nerves in last year's final. "People ask if I felt the pressure the night before but I didn't feel I had anything to worry about. My parents came over and we were all staying in a house. We had a barbecue the night before the final and we watched the World Cup on television. In the morning I was feeling good and everything was fine. I did my warm-up and everything was normal. The crowd were cheering as we went on the court and I thought: 'Hey, this is it. This is why I play tennis, just to get here. Why be nervous? You're here to enjoy and play.'''

He retains only happy memories of the match. "It's great whenever I see a photograph or something that reminds me that I was in the Wimbledon final. Even in that moment on court after the match it felt great, but later on you appreciate it even more. You know you were the one who was in the final. I just hope that one day I'll go one better."

Four to watch

Such is the strength of the top four seeds that many experts believe no one else has a chance of winning this year. But a new pack is starting to chase the aces at the top of the rankings and one of our outsiders could easily feature in the final shakedown. And the geographical spread of contenders shows the global strength of the game

Richard Gasquet (France)

Age 25

World Ranking 13

Has played his best tennis in recent weeks since serving a ban in 2009 following a positive test for cocaine (which he claimed he had ingested by kissing a woman in a nightclub). A great stylist, he lost to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2007 and to Andy Murray in a five-set thriller on his last appearance at the Championships three years ago.

Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria)

Age 20

World Ranking 64

Former Wimbledon and US Open junior champion. His elegant style has been compared to that of Roger Federer. He trains at the Mouratoglou academy in Paris, where he is coached by the Australian Peter McNamara. It is his second appearance in the main draw at Wimbledon, having retired with injury in 2009 when he made his first-round debut against Igor Kunitsyn.

Milos Raonic (Canada)

Age 20

World Ranking 26

At 6ft 5in tall and weighing more than 14st, Raonic could be a major threat on grass. He has hit more aces (479) on tour than any other player this year. He won his first title at San Jose in February and has moved up 269 places in the world rankings since the last Wimbledon. Emigrated to Canada with his family from Montenegro aged three.

Alexandr Dolgopolov (Ukraine)

Age 22

World Ranking 21

Has climbed 350 places in the world rankings in the last two years. He reached the Australian Open quarter-finals in January (his best Grand Slam performance) before losing to Andy Murray, and reached the second round on his Wimbledon debut last year, when he took Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a fine grass-court player, to five sets in four-hour marathon