Doha: Day-2 proves there is work to be done

As players tune-up for the Australian Open from Chennai to Perth and from Brisbane back to Doha…for many, it’s obvious there is work to be done before 2015’s first Grand Slam – Rafael Nadal included. On Day-2 of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2015, Nadal would fall to a 34-year-old German ranked #127 in the world, Michael Berrer (6-1, 3-6, 4-6).

Rafa wasn’t the only First-Round upset on Tuesday:

  • The #5-seed, Philip Kohlschreiber – a two-time doubles champion in Doha – fell in three-sets to Jan-Lennard Struff
  • Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer, here as the #8-seed, dropped his first match of the year to World #45 Andreas Seppi of Italy
  • Mikhail Youzhny, a Doha semifinalist in 2002, couldn’t win a set against a 22-year-old from Georgia ranked #177 in the world, Nikoloz Basilashvili
  • World #99 Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia upset Argentina’s Juan Monaco in straigh sets
  • The top doubles seeds, Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares – Doha finalists last year – fell in Round-1 to Benjamin Becker and Artem Sitak
  • Aisam-Ul-Hap Qureshi and Nenad Zimonjic, here as the #2-seeds, were defeated in a match tie-break by Austrians Julian Knowle and Philipp Oswald
  • Even the #4-seeds fell in the first round on Tuesday, as Fernando Verdasco and David Marrero eliminated Ivan Dodig and Max Mirnyi

“Who the hell is Michael Berrer?” you’re asking. Good question.

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However, make no mistake, Mr. Berrer knows exactly who he is. On Monday, I was at the media hotel waiting on transportation to the tennis center and climbed into a waiting sponsor vehicle with an unassuming, quiet gentleman loaded down with his gear for the day. As the driver pulled away, I leaned over, offered my hand and introduced myself. He told me his name was Michael and he was heading over for his match that afternoon. I asked him why he was staying at the media hotel and not the Four Seasons like the rest of the players…to which he smiled and said: “It’s too much – too distracting being around everyone all the time.” The media hotel was more convenient for him and gave him more time to focus on his studies without bumping into friends and competitors on a stroll through the lobby.

Focus on his studies?

Wait a minute. Don’t you mean: Focus on his game? Sure. There’s plenty of that, but here’s the deal: Michael told me he’s now 34-years-old, married with two small children (his youngest is just four months old), and over the past several years his priorities have completely shifted. He earned a Sports Psychology degree from the University of Phoenix last February, and is finishing his Masters. He and his wife agree that it’s time to transition away from life on the road…to raising a family together in Stuttgart. With his degree and experience, he thought about getting into coaching…briefly. But that can involve nearly as much travel as playing on tour.

He then talked about how he was shifting his focus toward being a motivational coach for business – something that would keep him closer to home and utilize his knowledge and degree. As we parted ways at the tennis center, I told him that his experiences in sport were his unique selling point when it came to developing a unique and marketable motivational presentation, and wished him the best of luck developing “a hook.”

Later that day, we passed each other in the hall just off center court and I asked: “So how’d it go?!” – Michael humbly responded: “Good. I won.” He didn’t go into any detail, despite the fact that it was a remarkable 3rd-round qualifying win over Matthias Bachinger to reach the main draw: 6-7(3), 6-0, 6-3. He then went on to talk about how he was enjoying hearing my voice from center court on his way back to the locker room, and there were some great doubles matches left to be played on Monday (both Rafa and Novak were set to play their 1st round doubles matches). He completely shifted the focus off of himself…

…and then did the exact same thing during our interview, right after the biggest win of his career. After defeating Rafael Nadal, the defending Doha champion, I simply said: “Michael? That just happened. At 34-years-old, you’ve taken down your first top-5 player.” With a big grin, he calmly responded with “…yeah” while shrugging his shoulders, then soaked-in the resulting applause. When I told him about the throng of players and coaches gathered around the TV in the locker room, and he ackowledged Dustin Brown and other players who were attendance for the match, he said: “That’s when I put my sports psychology degree to work, completely blocking everything out during the match.” He then exercised the degree further with this comment: “Today many good things came together, and we should not overrate this now. It was one victory. Tomorrow everything can change. He [Nadal] was not at his best. But for me, a memorable victory.”

Truth? Even if Rafa were at his best, today would still have been a tough test for the 14-time Grand Slam Champion. Berrer truly played some of the most agressive and offensive tennis of his career. The pressure is off. He knows without question that this is his final season. He’s educated, prepared and excited about the next stage of his life…and on 6 January 2015, he may have found that unique “hook” to market a new career in motivating others.

Full Results – First Round singles matches:
[1] N Djokovic (SRB) d D Lajovic (SRB) 62 61
[Q] M Berrer (GER) d [2] R Nadal (ESP) 16 63 64
[3] T Berdych (CZE) d D Istomin (UZB) 61 64
[4] D Ferrer (ESP) d [Q] T de Bakker (NED) 67(4) 64 63
J Struff (GER) d [5] P Kohlschreiber (GER) 76(3) 46 61
A Seppi (ITA) d [8] L Mayer (ARG) 57 76(4) 76(4)
S Stakhovsky (UKR) d [WC] J Ali Mutawa (QAT) 61 61
[Q] N Basilashvili (GEO) d M Youzhny (RUS) 75 62
[Q] B Kavcic (SLO) d J Monaco (ARG) 76(3) 64
J Souza (BRA) d [WC] M Jaziri (TUN) 36 64 63

Full Results – First Round doubles matches:
B Becker (GER) / A Sitak (NZL) d [1] A Peya (AUT) / B Soares (BRA) 53 Retired
J Knowle (AUT) / P Oswald (AUT) d [2] A Qureshi (PAK) / N Zimonjic (SRB) 57 76(5) 10-3
D Marrero (ESP) / F Verdasco (ESP) d [4] I Dodig (CRO) / M Mirnyi (BLR) 62 76(2)
L Rosol (CZE) / S Stakhovsky (UKR) d P Andujar (ESP) / A Seppi (ITA) 62 64

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Order of play for tomorrow: 7 January 2015

CENTER COURT start 3:30 pm
[Q] N Basilashvili (GEO) vs [7] I Karlovic (CRO)
[1] N Djokovic (SRB) vs S Stakhovsky (UKR)
[Q] B Kavcic (SLO) vs [3] T Berdych (CZE)
[6] R Gasquet (FRA) vs S Bolelli (ITA)

COURT 1 start 4:30 pm
[4] D Ferrer (ESP) or [Q] T de Bakker (NED) vs F Verdasco (ESP)
B Becker (GER) / A Sitak (NZL) vs J Monaco (ARG) / R Nadal (ESP)
After Suitable Rest
[3] J Cabal (COL) / R Farah (COL) vs [WC] N Djokovic (SRB) / F Krajinovic (SRB)

COURT 2 start 3:30 pm
D Brown (GER) vs J Struff (GER)
I Dodig (CRO) vs [Q] M Berrer (GER)
After Suitable Rest
L Rosol (CZE) / S Stakhovsky (UKR) vs J Knowle (AUT) / P Oswald (AUT) or [2] A Qureshi (PAK) / N Zimonjic (SRB)

COURT 3 start 4:30 pm
A Seppi (ITA) vs J Souza (BRA)
After Suitable Rest
D Inglot (GBR) / F Mergea (ROU) vs D Marrero (ESP) / F Verdasco (ESP)