It has taken him time to reach the top, but then again Tomas Berdych has never been the quickest of movers. The Czech's talent was evident when, as the world No 50, he beat six higher-ranked players, including five in the world's top 20, to win the 2005 Paris Masters. His tournament haul since then? In nearly five years, the 6ft 5in giant from Valasske Mezirici has won just three minor titles, at Halle, Tokyo and Munich.
Today, nevertheless, Berdych plays in his first Grand Slam final, a realisation, at last, of the potential that at one stage he seemed destined never to unlock. If this afternoon's Wimbledon final appears something of a mismatch – Rafael Nadal, his opponent, has won 40 tournaments, including seven Grand Slam titles – the Spaniard will not be taking his opponent lightly.
Berdych has already knocked out Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic and if he wins today he would become only the third man in the Open era to defeat three of the top four seeds en route to a Grand Slam title. This is his 28th Grand Slam tournament: in modern times only Goran Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon in his 48th Grand Slam appearance, and Petr Korda, who won the Australian Open in his 34th, have won their first major titles at such a late stage of their careers.
While Nadal is the outstanding player of his generation, Berdych is another from a rich crop of 23 and 24-year-olds who filled all four semi-final slots here this year. Djokovic, Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Britain's own Andy Murray are all in the same age group. Monfils and Gasquet have yet to fulfil their promise, but Berdych is starting to catch up with Djokovic and Murray. Five years after his only previous appearance in a Masters Series final he made it to a second in Miami this spring, beating Federer along the way before losing to Andy Roddick.
What had been a modest clay-court campaign for Berdych peaked spectacularly at the French Open, where he reached his first Grand Slam semi-final, having trounced Murray in straight sets in the last 16. He will climb to a career-high position in tomorrow's world-ranking list – to No 7 if he wins today and No 8 if he loses.
One of the major differences between the 2010 Berdych and the earlier vintages is his ability to close out matches and to live with the game's best players. Last year he won the first two sets against Federer at the Australian Open only to lose, while in a run of 28 matches against top-10 opponents between 2007 and the start of this year's Miami Masters he won only three times.
Berdych said that he hoped the experience of reaching the last four at the French Open, where he lost to Robin Soderling, would stand him in good stead today.
"That was my first experience of an occasion like that," Berdych said yesterday. "I hope tomorrow won't feel any more special than the other matches. I will try to really concentrate just on my game, on my points, and not to be thinking about the occasion, the fact that it's a final, that I'm playing Nadal."
Only one Czech player has won Wimbledon before, Jan Kodes, who triumphed in the boycott year of 1973. Ivan Lendl is the only other Czech who has played in a Wimbledon final in the Open era, having lost to Boris Becker in 1986 and to Pat Cash the following year.
To win today, Berdych will need to reverse all his recent form against Nadal. Although he won three of his first four matches against the Spaniard, Nadal has won all six of their meetings since 2006, winning 14 sets in a row. They have met here once before, Nadal winning in straight sets in the quarter-finals in 2007, which was Berdych's previous best run at the All England Club.
Since Nadal lost to Luxembourg's Gilles Müller in the second round in 2005, the world No 1 has played 27 matches here and lost just twice, to Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals. This is his fourth successive Wimbledon final – he missed last year because of injury – and he is currently on a 13-match winning streak here.
His recent success is a remarkable turnaround considering that he had gone 11 months without winning a title until this year's Monte Carlo Masters. Since then he has lost only once, to his fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the quarter-finals of the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club.
Along the way Nadal became the first player in the modern era to win the four big titles of the clay-court season – the Masters Series events in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid, followed by the French Open – and has quickly settled back into playing on grass. Berdych has his work cut out.