Argentina and the Czech Republic split the opening singles matches after day one of their Davis Cup semi-final clash.
Playing at Parque Roca in Buenos Aires, on the Argentines’ preferred surface of red clay, Juan Martin Del Potro opened proceedings with a straight sets win over Radek Stepanek. The world number eight, fresh from reaching the quarter-finals of the US Open, was always favoured to come through against the 33-year-old Czech veteran. However, Del Potro is still suffering from the wrist injury he sustained several years ago, and was even told by doctors not to play in the tie.
But patriotism prevailed, and the Argentine number one, buoyed by the boisterous local crowd, overcame his stubborn opponent 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Del Potro was tearful afterwards, thanking the fans for their support. “I think everyone could see how I played. I didn’t have winners with my backhand, but my serve helped me,” he said.
The second match of the day was a much closer affair, a gruelling five-setter that ended with Tomas Berdych sneaking past Juan Monaco. On paper, world number six Berdych should always have come through against the 11th ranked Monaco, but the Argentine was riding a wave of energetic crowd support and opened up a two sets to one lead. Berdych had been struggling to keep his groundstrokes inside the court during the second and third sets, and Monaco, retrieving well, capitalised.
With a 4-2 advantage in the fourth set, it seemed as though the host country was headed for a commanding lead after the first day of play. However, Berdych regained his consistency, showing the kind of form that allowed him to dismiss Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the US Open last week. The Czech won eight games in a row, racing to a 4-0 lead in the decider. Monaco was not ready to give up just yet, and rallied to break Berdych twice. But Berdych held firm, sealing victory on his first match point with a searing backhand return.
Argentina are aiming to reach their second straight Davis Cup final, and their fourth since 2006. The Czechs were runners-up in 2009.