Tomas Berdych handed Rafael Nadal one of the heaviest defeats of his celebrated grand slam career on Tuesday, sending the 14-time major winner crashing out of the Australian Open.
In a spectacular reversal after enduring a “record” 17 straight losses to the champion Spaniard, Berdych humbled Nadal 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) in a quarter-final boilover at Melbourne Park.
“I was ready for everything and that was the biggest difference,” Berdych said. “We set up a plan very well and I stuck to it for three sets.”
The imposing Czech’s reward is a semi-final showdown with either Andy Murray or Australian teenage star Nick Kyrgios for a spot in Sunday’s title match.
The seventh seed — whose nine-year losing streak against Nadal included the 2010 Wimbledon final — broke the Spaniard five times in avoiding an inglorious place in the history books.
Another defeat and Berdych would have been the first man in the 47-year open era to lose 19 consecutive matches to a rival.
Instead, Berdych joined Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as only the second man to claim the grand slam scalps of Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Widely regarded as the best player yet to win a major, Berdych now believes he can finally break through at Melbourne Park.
“I’m ready,” Berdych said. “I’m feeling strong and confident and I want to go all the way.”
Nadal came into the tournament insisting he wasn’t a serious title contender after playing just eight matches since Wimbledon due to back and wrist injuries, and an appendectomy in October.
He dodged a bullet in the third round against lowly-ranked American qualifier Tim Smyzcek but appeared to be working his way into the championship after winning his next two matches in straight sets.
But Berdych brutally exposed his lack of match preparedness, striking 46 winners to 24.
A semi-finalist in Melbourne for the first time last year, Berdych was on top from the outset.
Nadal gifted him the first break of the match with a string of unforced errors in the fourth game.
Berdych broke Nadal for a second with a powerful backhand cross-court winner to take the opening set after 35 minutes.
It was only the second time in his nine-year losing streak against Nadal that he’d won the first set against the Spaniard.
But unlike the previous occasion — in the quarter-finals in Melbourne three years ago — Berdych did not relent.
Two clean forehand winners and another Nadal backhand error earned the Czech an early break in the second set.
If Nadal wasn’t in huge strife then, he certainly was after double-faulting to fall behind 4-0.
Worse was to come, with Berdych dishing out Nadal’s first bagel at a slam since Roger Federer secured the first set 6-0 in the 2006 Wimbledon final.
Down two sets to love, Nadal had to make a stand.
He did, fighting off a break point at 3-4 in third set with his biggest serve of the match.
The 2009 Open champion then mustered two break points of his own in the next game to raise hopes of a comeback, only for Berdych to come up with two huge aces under pressure.
With Nadal down 5-6 and 15-40, Berdych had two match points to finish him off but had to wait until the tie-breaker, finally prevailing on his fourth match point after two hours and 13 minutes.