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Beyond the Baseline

Five for Friday: Rising Tomas Berdych

Tomas Berdych

Tomas Berdych upset Andy Murray on Friday to reach the Monte Carlo semifinals. (Getty Images)

1. Is Tomas Berdych the ATP No. 5?: Berdych is through to the Monte Carlo semifinals after upsetting Andy Murray today, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-3. It wasn't a great performance from Murray, who struggled with his forehand all day, though Berdych was solid, proving once again that the idea that big men can't play on clay should go out with the trash.

I've been impressed that Berdych has been able to gradually improve over the last two years and become a mainstay in the top 10. The Czech always had top 10 tools, hitting big from the baseline, but his propensity to choke away matches was pretty legendary. Ever since his Wimbledon final run in 2010, Berdych found his belief and his swagger and he got ... mean. Where he used to have a reputation for being soft and relatively shy or soft-spoken with the press, there's a newfound edge about the guy now. Ask a question that's slightly critical and he'll give you a dismissive and smug answer while looking at you dead in the eye. To be clear, he's not rude, snippy, or defensive about it. It just seems like he's embraced his role as the spoiler and the bad guy and he's OK with it now. Whatever it is, it's working for him on court.

In my mind, he's the ATP No. 5 right now.

2. Fed Cup roundup: What does Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpischev know that we don't? Despite the fact that Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is 3-8 in 2012 and hasn't beaten anyone in the top 40 in a completed match this year, Tarpischev chosen to nominate her for singles on Saturday against Serbia. In fact, Pavlyuchenkova hasn't beaten anyone in the top 20 in a completed match since the U.S. Open, though one of the players she did beat back then was Jelena Jankovic, who she'll  play on Saturday. No love for Maria Kirilenko, Tarpi? Saving her for singles and doubles on Sunday? We'll see.

Meanwhile, in the other semifinal tie, Italian Captain Corrado Barazzutti has made the surprising but smart choice in benching Flavia Pennetta for singles and going with Italian No. 4 Sara Errani, who won Barcelona just last week.

Finally, as expected, Germany will go with Angelique Kerber and Julia Goerges for singles against Sam Stosur and Jarmila Gajdosova, leaving the recently healed Andrea Petkovic on the bench.

3. Tennis fans, we're a weird bunch: In the course of this fun back and forth with Ed McGrogan at Tennis.com, Steve Tignor made this observation about tennis fans:

I guess it’s not as much fun to see shortcomings on display. Maybe that’s one reason why so many tennis fans, especially now, gravitate toward the very top. I feel like every serious tennis fan is either in the Fed, Rafa, or Nole camp at this point... Tennis fans are natural bandwagoners, in other words, and as a fan of Borg, McEnroe, Agassi, and Graf, I’ve long been one as well. Only the champions resonate, while the Reeshards of the world are dismissed as gagging bums while they’re playing.

It's obviously an over-generalization, but the comment did get me thinking about the nature of tennis fandom and why we like who we like. Personally, I was never really in any of those three camps and, if anything, I've generally been drawn more to the Richard Gasquets of the world precisely for the reasons Tignor outlines. The ones who struggle and seem more human are precisely the ones I relate to. As much as I love watching Federer whip an inside out forehand, or Nadal effortlessly fire a forehand pass, in the back of my mind I dismiss their talent as completely superhuman. I love a good superhero movie as much as the next, primarily for the escapism and the notion that the Supermans and Wonder Womans of the comic book world are all what we aspire to be. But give me a quiet movie with tragically flawed characters just trying to make it through life and that's where I emotionally connect.

So whenever Andy Murray botches a routine mid-court forehand, or Sam Stosur whacks balls 10 feet out of bounds for no good reason, there's comfort in that. It's humanizing in a way that pitch-perfect shot selection and consistent execution isn't. I like being reminded that the game of tennis isn't as easy as the top men and women can make it look, and I know a lot of tennis fans feel the same way. For some, the beauty is in the struggle, and that's no more apparent than in tennis, where a players' failures are plain to see. There's no hiding behind helmets or blaming teammates. You, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, just did this. And it makes me adore you even more.

4. No really, tennis fans are a weird bunch: I put a call out on Twitter last night asking people what is the most outrageous thing they've done as a tennis fan. The responses were great. Here's a small sample:

http://twitter.com/DebLDecker/statuses/193202380517556225

http://twitter.com/raindelaysplay/statuses/193227487617105920

http://twitter.com/RD_Tennistalk/statuses/193373908408336384

http://twitter.com/gkounadis/statuses/193163627149275136

http://twitter.com/suboticjelena/statuses/193171042838130688

Great stuff. Keep the responses coming via Twitter and email. I hope to compile them into a post down the road.

5. The tennis fan loop: I'll be honest, I can't even remember what being a tennis fan was like before the internet. More specifically, I don't remember much about what it was like pre-message boards, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. But what I do know is that being an ardent tennis fan nowadays can be an all-consuming thing. Which is why this illustration by @thedoublebagel and @dcortez8 about the life of a tennis fan hits home.

In fact, switch out "The Puppington Post" for all things tennis, and isn't this what our lives look like now?

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