In Rafael Nadal's words: 'Tomas Berdych is a future top-10 player'

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In Rafael Nadal's words: 'Tomas Berdych is a future top-10 player'

Starting the season from inside the top-50, a teenager Tomas Berdych scored only three wins in the first two months of 2005, heading to Bastad in July with 12 victories under his belt. In Sweden, Tomas advanced to the final, losing to Rafael Nadal in straight sets and gaining momentum for the upcoming events.

The Czech was the quarter-finalist in Stuttgart and the semi-finalist in Washington, facing Rafael Nadal again in the first round of Cincinnati. The Spaniard had won 16 consecutive matches before this encounter, heading to Ohio after winning the third Masters 1000 title in Montreal and suffering a 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 loss.

The battle lasted for almost three hours and Berdych saved three match points in the closing stages of a decider, notching his first notable victory since the Olympic Games a year earlier when he stunned world no. 1 Roger Federer.

Berdych had the upper hand behind the first serve and pivotal moments, fending off ten out of 12 break chances and delivering brave tennis on those match points to cross the finish line first. The Czech had more than 50 winners and unforced errors, keeping the rallies on his racquet and avoiding lengthy exchanges.

Wasting his opportunities, Rafa dropped serve four times from six opportunities offered to Tomas, losing ground in those decisive moments to end the winning streak. Nadal broke at love in the ninth game to move in front, serving for the set but playing a loose game to keep Berdych in.

Saving a set point, Rafa won the tie break 7-4, taking a big step towards the next round.

From 40-0 in the fifth game of the second set, the Spaniard got broken after a lucky net cord from Tomas, giving serve away again at 4-2 and allowing the Czech to seal the set with a hold at love a few minutes later.

Struggling with left leg issues and tiredness, Rafa tried to make a fresh start in the decider, serving well and creating five break chances at 4-3 that could have sent him in front. Tomas wasn't to be denied, though, erasing them all to bring the game home and remain in contention.

Carried by that momentum, Berdych grabbed a break in the next game, serving for the victory at 5-4 and getting broken to keep Rafa alive. In the 12th game, Tomas defended those three match points with bold tennis, entering the tie break and winning it 7-3 to advance into the second round.

Praising the rival, Nadal said that Berdych should reach the top-10 in the future and the Czech cracked the elite group in October next year. "Tomas Berdych is a future top-10 player; he is young and plays well," Rafael Nadal said.