Tomas Berdych, the No. 6 seed, gave the sun-baked Stadium Court crowd some tennis to watch at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday by beating Kevin Anderson, 6-4, 6-4, in a typically hard-hitting encounter, but the women didn't show.
On a sad day for the tournament and the WTA, first Samantha Stosur and then Viktoria Azarenka had to default their quarterfinal matches through injury. Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion from Australia, had been due to play Germany's Angelique Kerber but pulled out with a calf injury, while Azarenka had expected to play the No. 8 seed from Denmark, Caroline Wozniacki.
As defending champion, Azarenka was particularly upset at not being able to take the court. "I'm extremely disappointed," she said. "I feel I'm playing really well right now and was so excited to be playing here. I love this tournament."
Azarenka had an MRI the day before that revealed inflammation around the right ankle. "I tested it out as much as possible, but it's already really painful and the doctor and my team told me it's just a very, very high risk to play. The key word was 'rest.' I didn't want to hear it, but that's the fact."
The injury has thrown Azarenka's participation in Miami next week in doubt, especially as hard courts exacerbate this type of injury with sudden, jarring stops in contrast to clay, where players can slide into the ball.
The women will eventually be seen in action on Friday evening, as both semifinals have been scheduled for the night session. Wozniacki will play Kerber at 6:30 p.m. PT or later depending on the men's quarterfinals preceding it, and then Maria Sharapova will play her Russian compatriot Maria Kirilenko.
In his quarterfinal, Berdych proved too clinical with his serve and power-packed ground strokes for Anderson, who is three inches taller than the Czech at 6 feet 8 but otherwise something of a mirror image in style. Except that Berdych does everything just that little bit better.
Berdych, who has been a solid member of the world's top 10 for the past three years, appears to be the player knocking hardest on that door that is marked, "Top four -- keep out!"
The statistics are amazing. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have prevented anyone else from winning the last eight Australian Opens, eight French Opens, 10 Wimbledons and nine U.S. Opens with just one infiltration into the champion's circle by an outsider -- Juan Martin del Potro's triumph over Federer at Flushing Meadows in 2009. With very few exceptions, such as Robin Soderling's reaching two consecutive French Open finals, the top quartet have played these Grand Slams finals among them.
But Berdych provides the other exception, having blasted his way through to the Wimbledon final in 2010 before losing to Federer. It was thought that he might kick on from there but, up to now, the door has never opened again. How close does he think he is getting?
"Well, I think I am getting closer," he said with a wry smile. "But those guys are still running away, you know. I don't know how they do it. It's really, really tough, you know. So I just try and focus on myself; trying to go one by one and trying to be patient. One day, hopefully I can say all that work has been paying off and I will be able to make really big result like Grand Slam. So that's my key and motivation."
Berdych will play the winner of Thursday's night match between two of that seemingly impregnable top four -- Federer and Nadal.