Tennis: No love lost in last eight skirmish

By Mike Hedge

Today's Australian Open quarter-final between Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych has a whiff of cricket's "bodyline" controversy about it.

Berdych comes to the quarters by way of a fourth-round match in which his Spanish opponent Nicolas Almagro angered him by belting a tennis ball at his head.

The Czech, in turn, refused to observe the etiquette of shaking his opponent's hand at the net after the final point, drawing a hostile response from the crowd and prominent figures including the Superbrat himself, John McEnroe, who suggested Berdych needed to "toughen up".

Nadal can restore Spanish honour when he gets on to Rod Laver Arena today. He and Berdych have their own "history".

Six years ago in Madrid, Berdych upset Nadal by signalling to the crowd to be quiet after he beat the Spaniard.

The pair exchanged words at the net and relations have been strained ever since.

After his win over Almagro, Berdych declined an invitation to further stoke the controversy, instead praising Nadal.

"He didn't drop a set yet and he's playing with confidence really well," Berdych said. "He's shown he's a great tennis player ... he deserves the position he has, maybe even higher."

Berdych, the seventh seed, has dropped only two sets in his four matches, to Spain's Albert Ramos in the first round and Almagro in round four.

Controversies aside, Berdych rightly described his match with Almagro as "fantastic", as suggested by a scoreline including three tiebreak sets.

Nadal's fourth-rounder against countryman Feliciano Lopez was his first with a seeded opponent and, accordingly, his toughest of the championship.

The 10-time grand slam champion said his low-key lead-up to the championship appeared to be paying off.

"I think I started the tournament playing really well," Nadal said after beating Lopez. "Today I played another complete match ... serious match."

Nadal acknowledged that the second week of a grand slam could be a whole different matter.

"It is the moment to keep playing well and try to go a little bit more," he said. "But I am in the right place, right moment. I am happy."

Whether he conveys that emotion across the net towards Berdych may be another matter.

- AAP

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