MONTE CARLO, Monaco – There's no stopping Tomas Berdych right now. Fresh from his fine showing at the Sony Ericsson in Miami, the big Czech absolutely pulverized the local favorite, Richard Gasquet, here on a chilly evening at the Monte Carlo Country Club, blitzing his way into the third round of this ATP Masters 1000 event with a 6-2, 6-0 victory.
Still sporting his lucky green shirt that served him so well while beating the likes of Roger Federer and Robin Soderling in the Florida sunshine, Berdych hit his forehand with such venom that the Frenchman had no time to get his game together and certainly no time to do any damage with his lovely backhand.
The 24-year-old who makes his home here in Monaco has been on the tour for seven years but only now is he starting to bear a vague resemblance to his illustrious predecessor, Ivan Lendl. It is inconceivable that Berdych will begin to emulate Lendl's great record (eight Grand Slam titles and eleven losing finals) but the height, the walk and the way he fires off his formidable forehand do bring back certain memories.
It is not easy to hit a stream of winners on clay but Berdych just unloaded off his forehand and Gasquet, who had looked good the previous day, was simply overwhelmed. Berdych, who has now lost just six games in four sets, should meet sterner opposition in the next round when he comes up against Fernando Verdasco, a 6-2, 6-1 winner over Julien Benneteau. However, in Miami, Verdasco lost to Berdych in three sets.
Two earlier matches, when the sun shone for a packed centre Court crowd, were more competitive. Marin Cilic, who trains down the coast at San Remo with Bob Brett, the former coach to Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic, had to keep his nerve against experienced Russian Igor Andreev, who had won their only previous clay court meeting in Gstaad two years ago.
In a duel of huge forehand exchanges, Cilic, the No 4 seed, came through 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 but needed to break a second time after losing his serve before closing out a tense final set.
Then Jo-Wilfried Tsonga appeared to the squeals of delight from his army of supporters to play the hard-hitting Spaniard Nicolas Almagro who has been in good form recently. Tsonga, who has been likened to Muhammad Ali and one of his predecessors as French No. 1, Yannick Noah, in both looks and style, has always been a crowd pleaser but injuries disrupted his early career. He made a big impact in reaching the final of the Australian Open in 2008 and is only now settling down to some consistency week in, week out.
The standard of tennis was very high between these two clean hitters but Tsonga had just a little bit more variety, scoring with at least three rally-terminating drop shots that left the Spaniard flat-footed. In the end he came through a big duel 7-6, 7-5 and, not surprisingly, was well satisfied. "For a first match it was not easy," said the No. 5 seed. "He is an excellent player. But I was solid and this year, I have found I'm adapting to the clay pretty quickly."
On Wednesday, defending champion Rafael Nadal is due to make his bow against the Dutchman, Thiemo de Bakker, while Andy Murray, a semifinalist here last year in one of his best showings on clay, will meet the German, Phillip Kohlschreiber.