Berdych pushing to join tennis' top table

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Berdych has had a remarkable year on the Tour.

He is one of the most intriguing tennis players on social media and has been a constant presence in the top-10 for the past four-and-a-half years.

– INTERVIEW: Andy Murray no longer worries about public perception
– VIDEO: Croatian star Borna Coric finding form in Dubai

Always stoic on the court, Tomas Berdych showed a humorous side no one knew existed, when he joined Twitter mid-2013.

On the court, he has hired a new coach in Dani Vallverdu at the end of last year and is hoping the Venezuelan can help take him from perennial contender to grand slam champion.

We caught up with the recently engaged Czech world No8 at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel in Dubai to find out more about his life off the court.

You were out practising on both Saturday and Sunday in a horrendous sandstorm ahead of the tournament. How do you practise in conditions like that?
It’s pretty tough. It’s not easy to play in windy conditions, that’s probably the worst conditions we can have for tennis; and if you add the sand into it, then it’s even worse.

I think it was more to just go there, try to have a hit, hope that it’s not going to be that bad. That’s basically it. You can’t expect that you’re going to have perfect rhythm and hit the balls extremely well and clean. But you have to do it because the conditions could be like that or similar on the day of the match and it’s always good to have tried it before.

So you never thought for a second ‘the weather is awful I’m staying in and not practise today’?
You can have that thought but at the end of the day you have to go there. It’s just easier that you’re focused on that ‘okay I’m going to go there, I’m going to try to use it as much as I can’.

Of course we set up the practice in the morning for an hour and a half and then we had to skip it after half an hour because it was pretty much impossible. But you have to make that effort, that’s what makes you stronger for the future.

Have you always been this disciplined, even as a kid?
Yes, I think I was pretty good with that since I was a kid. I never had a problem or issues with like ‘I’m going skip practice or go to a tournament here or there’.

You’ve been quite a revelation on Twitter since you joined a year-and-a-half ago. Do you get the sense that your popularity has grown since then?
Definitely, yes. It’s very difficult to show the personality when you’re on court. Because on court, you have to be really focused for the match and whatever it takes, you have to be like that. I can really see that it might be boring, because we are all kind of shaped into the same direction, which you have to go on if you want to be really successful.

So I think Twitter is a great opportunity to bring something else to the audience and all the people around. You have some down time in between, unless you’re spending all your hours on the practice courts. People want to know about us, that we are normal humans like everyone else, doing normal stuff.

Do you feel you were misunderstood before you got a chance to show another side of yourself on Twitter?
In one way, yes, but you can’t really be upset about it because I didn’t have any option to change it, to give a different view on that. On the court I’m really focused and there’s not much happening around you. Twitter gave me the option to do it.

You haven’t set a date, but do you think you’re the kind of guy who will be heavily involved in wedding planning, or you’ll leave it to your fiancée Ester (Satorova)?
I think we are pretty good in combining our ideas. What’s good is that it’s never she’s saying white and I’m saying black. We’re pretty much on the same line with whatever we want to do and how we want to do it. So I think this is going to be very simple and very easy.

You’re sponsored and clothed by H&M, a fashion brand, and you do so many photo shoots. Do you ever get self-conscious being part of any of those shoots?
I think it’s very fun actually. It’s something different and I like to try different things. It’s part of it, definitely it is. It’s what you have to expect when you are partnering with a company like H&M. I think it goes really well together. You have days in between your tournaments and if you plan it well, it’s good fun. The team is always great, I don’t see any problems at all.

Has Ester given you any modelling tips?
The good thing is that when you do some stuff with the men, shoots are much simpler, especially with sportsmen, it’s much easier, unless we do some action shots. This is much easier. The creativity still stays with the girls.

You’ve shown some amazing form in recent tournaments, but then it looks like the finishing touch hasn’t really been there. Do you feel you need to work on your killer instinct?
I think it’s many things together and combined. I think the opposition is getting better and better. It’s also that the journey is long, it’s not about one match, so you have to keep doing well all week, or two weeks when you’re talking about slams. I think that’s the magic about tennis, that it’s not one match only.

You have to really keep yourself very fresh and prepared all the time. I see it as a positive thing that the results I’ve made so far are in the right direction. There wasn’t enough time to get all those new things implemented in my game, which always takes some time. But already now I can feel that I managed to cut the time, quite a lot. And I can see the results.

So no regrets in any of the matches recently?
It’s not about regret. I can see positive signs, especially in the ones that I’ve lost. Firstly, there is a big change in terms of how to approach the game with various plans.

Also, what are the things I have to keep improving on and to be able to do that for the entire match to win. I can see all those things. It’s just a matter of time, especially time on the practice courts.

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INTERVIEW: Andy Murray no longer worried about public perception

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Murray is playing in the Dubai quarter-finals on Thursday.

There’s a famous quote that says: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Some attribute it to Oscar Wilde, others don’t. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a solid notion to live by yet for many people, particularly those in the public eye, it is not that simple to follow.

– VIDEO: Borna Coric thriving in Dubai
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For a long time, Andy Murray’s relationship with the public and media was a complicated one. And many times he was crucified for supposedly saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way. In reality, all he was trying to do was be himself.

The constant scrutiny drove him to stop doing that for a while and the Scot’s image became one of a closed-off character, some people judged it as being grumpy. But Murray’s personality could not be farther from that and a series of events helped the world see past the facade.

An emotional on-court speech after suffering a heart-breaking loss to Roger Federer at the Wimbledon final in 2012 showed a new side of him. He then won the Olympics on home soil, and ended Britain’s 77-year drought at Wimbledon the following year, rising above the mountain of pressure he felt at SW19 each season.

Fast-forward a couple of years and you get a Murray that is more outspoken than any of his contemporaries. He’s been discussing subjects that matter to him, be it in his interviews or on social media and while he is aware it could get him into trouble, he’s no longer preoccupied with the consequences.

An approach that is both refreshing and brave.

“To be honest, I’ve had, during my career, more criticism than most players,” Murray told Sport360° on the sidelines of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

“There’s no point in trying to change the way I am. There was a period when I wasn’t really being myself and I feel like life becomes much better when you try to be yourself and honest and say what you think. Because whatever you say, it’s a fact that you can’t please everybody.

“Even if you were to say Roger Federer is perfect there are still people that don’t like him, like Rafa’s (Nadal) fans don’t like Roger and Roger’s fans don’t like Rafa. You can’t please everyone.”

Murray’s one-liners on Twitter in recent months have been a revelation. Be it his thoughts on Scotland’s independence vote (he revealed the “negativity of the no campaign” had swayed his view), or his comments on hiring a female coach, the world No3 comes across as both honest and funny.

During last month’s Australian Open, he complained about the double standards that saw people applaud Nadal for overcoming cramps and dizzy spells to beat Tim Smyczek in a tough five-setter but criticise Murray for going through similar problems during a match against Robin Haase at the US Open last year.

“When I cramped and won in the US Open last year I was a ‘drama Queen, unfit, needs to see a shrink, faker’ weird,” Murray tweeted after Nadal’s match. Players don’t get less filtered than that.

“I would say that yes I try to be honest, as honest as you can be these days,” Murray explained in Dubai. “But then also sometimes you say stuff like the thing with Rafa’s match in Australia. People were coming up to me and telling me ‘why would you say that about Rafa?’

“I was actually saying it to defend myself, I wasn’t saying it to say there was nothing wrong with Rafa in his match with Smyczek. That’s the thing. People get offended so easily these days and you just have to kind of laugh it off because you can’t please everybody.”

When his fiancée Kim Sears was caught on camera cursing during Murray’s tense semi-final match against Tomas Berdych in Australia last month, the British No1 called out the press on fuelling the tension ahead of the encounter by over-discussing the fact that Murray’s ex-hitting partner – Dani Vallverdu – was now Berdych’s coach.

For the final, Sears wore a t-shirt that had “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” written across it, showing a sense of humour she clearly shares with her future husband.

“She went shopping the day before the final and walked past, I think it was H&M, and saw the t-shirt in the front of the store, and just said ‘I’ve got to buy that’,” Murray says.

“So she bought it and then she wore it the night before when all the team were around and everyone was obviously laughing about it and she says ‘well, I’m going to wear it tomorrow’.

“I didn’t think she was going to. Then an hour or so before the match when she arrived, the guys said to me she’s got the t-shirt on. I said ‘okay, that’s sort of fun’.”

In that final against Novak Djokovic, Murray was up a break in the third set after the pair had split the first two in an agonisingly long affair. The two-time grand slam champion then suffered a meltdown, getting angry on court and losing his cool as Djokovic ran away with 12 of the last 13 games to take the title.

Murray later said he got distracted by Djokovic, who looked to be cramping but then stormed back like a gladiator, and the Scot regrets that he let his opponent’s antics get to him.

The 27-year-old is no stranger to experiencing rage on court, which he typically directs at himself.

Asked if he ever gets that angry off the court, Murray says: “Never. I’ve been trying to learn a lot about how the brain and mind work in certain situations over the last couple of years, because when I do that on the court, I do that to myself. It’s the one thing that I don’t like about myself.

“I’d like to stop that and I’ve been working very hard. It’s one of those things that when it happens, after the match I’m quite down about it because I am not being good to myself.

“I feel like I work very hard and prepare well, do all the right things and I should cut myself some slack when I’m on the court.

“It does happen to athletes all the time but I have a better understanding of why it happens and I’m working on it. It’s something where in comparison to when I was younger, it’s much, much better.”

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DDF Tennis Diary: Novak Djokovic has all the moves, Roger Federer stays bright

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Djokovic dances with an entertainer at the Dubai Players' Party.

Novak Djokovic has developed quite an annual tradition here in Dubai, and no I’m not talking about his tendency to win the title at the Aviation Club.

– Federer, Djokovic and Murray safely through in Dubai
– VIDEO: Borna Coris starring at DDFTC

Every year, the Serb showcases his dancing skills alongside the belly dancer that entertains the crowds at the Players’ Party and this week, it appears he has gotten particularly good at it.

The world No1 danced the night away, until 1am to be exact, despite having a last 16 match the next day. Not that it hampered him in any way as he demolished Andrey Golubev to make the quarter-finals.

“Must have been something about last night that has influenced my performance today,” Djokovic laughed.

“It was a lot of dancing. I saw most of the players leave when I arrived, because I finished the match late. So I arrived at the party around 10:30pm and I thought we were in for a short night, but it was completely different and I enjoyed it very much.

“I think these players’ parties usually are not as much fun as here in Dubai. We always have some nice, fun entertainment during the night with magicians and music.

“The lady that was dancing last night was incredible and the journalists that were there last night were incredible,” he said between chuckles, referring to a couple of Serbian reporters who joined him in the fun.

“So I enjoyed it very much. I don’t know if 1am is a bit late. Well, my coach was there with me, so he definitely approved everything.

“Boris showed some very flexible, very agile moves on the dance floor to hip hop, with his hips that were replaced [in the] last couple of years, and then with his ankles, and looks like a young guy on the floor.”

The brighter, the better
Roger Federer has been known to make some bold fashion choices on the court and the outfit he’s been wearing this week in Dubai definitely falls under that category.

The Swiss has been playing in a neon orange t-shirt and grey shorts that have a goldish-bronze sparkly stripe on each side. A get up that has matched his regular night matches well so far.

“I liked it a lot. I actually told them to carry through with it,” said Federer about his shorts.

“I think it’s different. I have worn so many outfits over the years, and I am lucky enough to be able to change my outfit 10 to 12 times a year.

“How many times can you do a t-shirt and another coloured shirt? I was like ‘let’s mix it up a little bit’. I haven’t worn bright colours in some time and I asked if that could be an option.

“[When] they presented me the shorts, I was like ‘okay, let’s make sure it’s at the right place.’ I think it actually works okay. I like it, and I hope fans enjoy the energy that comes out of it a bit.”

The world No2 revealed he keeps three of every different outfit he wears. The rest he gives to charity, his family and his friends.

He missed a few in his early years though because “I didn’t think I’d have a career”.

Who would have thought it?

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