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Both countries haven’t faced each other in a Davis Cup tie in three years. Then, the Czech Republic, at home and on carpet, a surface more favourable to their players, won a thriller of a quarter-final, 3-2, with Juan Martín del Potro forcing a decisive rubber when he defeated Tomas Berdych. Radek Stepanek has, afterwards, been the hero of the Czech team when he defeated Juan Mónaco in straight sets to book his country’s semi-final pass.
This time, the tie will be played at Argentina’s choice venue, Parque Roca, with a completely redone court but where, it is certain, the ambiance will be as electric as it’s always been, Argentina counting arguably with the best group of supporters that can be seen in the world.
The locals will surely need all the chanting and encouragement there can be, as the Czech Republic comes with their usual very strong squad, led by World n° 6 Tomas Berdych and by veteran Radek Stepanek, and with many doubts still surrounding their own home team.
Doubts there have been since the beginning of the week, as it was quickly known that there was a possibility that Argentina’s n° 1 player, Juan Martín del Potro, might not take part in the tie due to the left wrist injury that has been plaguing him since Cincinnati. With David Nalbandian already sidelined due to an oblique tear sustained in practice at the U.S. Open, forcing him to pull-out before his first round match against del Potro, the absence of the Tandil native would have been a huge blow to the Argentine hopes of reaching a second consecutive Davis Cup final.
Finally, on Wednesday, del Potro announced that, against the recommendation of his doctor and his close ones, he had decided to play the tie, which was described by the Argentine team’s doctor as “an act of courage”, considering that Delpo suffers from the same kind of injury he’s had in his right wrist and which forced him to miss almost all of 2010, and has played the U.S. Open receiving injections. However, del Potro knows the risks of playing having had only five days of rest instead of the 15 recommended by Dr Berger, and he really wanted to defend his country’s colours and play “for the people”.
Friday, for the first time in his career, del Potro will open a Davis Cup tie, as he will face Radek Stepanek in the first rubber. Stepanek leads their head-to-head 3-1, his last win having come last month, in Toronto. They have never played on clay, but the Czech’s game is one that is tricky for any player when he is on, and it has always been troubling del Potro in the past. It doesn’t help that Stepanek is the kind of player you don’t like to see in Davis Cup, where he always seems to find an extra gear and where even a two-set lead by his opponent doesn’t mean anything.
If, on top of it, his opponent is known not to be at 100%, it becomes an even more difficult match for that rival.However, we can count on del Potro not to come on court vanquished, as he is known for giving his all no matter the circumstances, and to fight every point until the last. It is to be expected that the Argentine will try as much as possible to play aggressive and keep the points as short as he possibly can.
The head-to-head favours Stepanek, the ranking and location favour del Potro. This is a quite open match, which I think the local will take, but with great difficulty.
The second singles rubber will oppose Juan Mónaco to Tomas Berdych. If the Argentine is having the best season of his career, his opponent is also back on track after having had a few bad performances from Wimbledon to Winston-Salem, where he really found his game once more to reach the final (l. to John Isner).
There is no doubt that Berdych is the favourite in this match. A very good clay court player, he leads the head-to-head 5-0. Despite not having faced each other in over a year, in which Mónaco has made enormous progress in his game and mindset, I don’t think it will be any different as far as the outcome is concerned, even though the match is likely to be a tight encounter.
Saturday’s doubles rubber will see Carlos Berlocq, who realises a long-time dream by finally defending his country’s colours at the Davis Cup, teaming up with Eduardo Schwank, theoretically facing Lukas Rosol and Ivo Minar. Theoretically, as we know that, in the past ties, Jaroslav Navratil has often changed his planned doubles team to, instead, put Berdych and Stepanek on court, quite successfully. Berlocq and Schwank haven’t played together since the Challenger of Buenos Aires, last year, where they won the title. Together, they also won the title in Stuttgart, back in 2010.
This should, again, be a open rubber, where the constant encouragement of the crowd, combined with the doubles experience of both players, could play in favour of the locals.
The reverse singles will liekly be the decisive ones in this tie. This time, del Potro is the one who comes with a favourable head-to-head against Tomas Berdych (4-2) and having won their last meeting, at the French Open, and their only other best-of-five meeting, in the 2009 Davis Cup quarter-finals. If the wrist holds up, this match should not be different, and Delpo should come out of it as the winner.
If a decisive rubber is needed, it will be up to Juan Mónaco and Radek Stepanek to seal the outcome of the tie. Stepanek always rises up to these occasions, and even though Mónaco won their only encounter on clay quite comfortably (in Rome this year), it is a match that will assuredly be very difficult for the local player.
My prediction: This tie will go to the limit, and Argentina will prevail, 3-2.