Defending Davis Cup champions, Czech Republic continued their bid for the 2013 Davis Cup with impressive performances in the first two rubbers against Argentina. The South American team played the semi-finals without the support of their top star Juan Martin del Potro and former top ranked David Nalbandian, which certainly added to their deficit throughout the tie.
Radek Stepanek (Player Bio), who won the deciding match last year to clinch the Cup for his country, played the opening rubber against Juan Monaco (Player Bio). The two met on the same stage several years back, with Stepanek getting the better of the Argentine 7-6(5) 6-3 6-2. He holds a 5-2 head-to-head advantage over Monaco, including their 2009 Davis Cup encounters.
The two swapped breaks early on, keeping the match on serve during the opening frames. Stepanek broke Monaco late in the first but was once again thwarted and forced to serve out the set in a tiebreak. To the delight of the thunderous crowd, the 37-year-old evaded potential danger and won the tiebreak 7-3 in emphatic fashion. The second two sets were far less competitive, with Stepanek comfortably taking the second two sets 6-3,6-2 . The world no. 61 hit 13 aces and 38 winners to seal the match in a total time of 2 hours and 33 minutes.
“I knew I played him on fast courts and I beat him so that little confidence inside my head was there.” Stepanek said after the match.“But I also knew Juan is a great fighter and he never gives up. So I was focused on finishing off the games and converting my chances.”
Stepanek had always been vocal about his love for the Davis Cup as well as his appreciation for the opportunity to represent his country.
“I have a huge responsibility, not only for my country but for our fans, for my team and playing Davis Cup is something which for me is indescribable, (especially) after winning last year and reaching our goal. It never gets old to play in front of our home crowd and in front of my family. It’s always something special and I give 120 per cent.”
The second rubber was a surprisingly competitive one. Fifth ranked Tomas Berdych (Player Bio) needed four sets to prevail over Leonardo Mayer (Player Bio), who fought valiantly throughout the match. It was their first encounter on the professional tour and an entertaining one that lasted over three hours. The Czech no. 1 started off at a steady pace and eventually forced a break point opportunity and took the opening set 6-4. Mayer levelled the score in the second set,, which sent an uncomfortable shudder through the crowd at the Prague O2 Arena.
It would not last long though, as Berdych regained form and controlled the remaining two sets 6-3, 6-4 to clinch the second rubber and extend the defending champions’ lead to 2-0 in the tie.
“It was very tough.” said Berdych. “He played really good. He had nothing to lose at all. When you play against a guy in the top of the rankings you can bring your best tennis and that is what he did. I was struggling with my rhythm in first two sets but then everything worked.”
Saturday’s third rubber features 46 ranked Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely against world no. 45 Carlos Berlcoq and partner Horacio Zeballos. The Czechs could potentially change their doubles team to Berdych and Stepanek, who have so far only lost one of 13 Davis Cup doubles rubbers together since their debut in 2007.
The winner of this weekend’s semi-finals will meet either Canada or Serbia in the November 15-17 finals. The Czech Republic will be aiming to win back-to-back titles for the first time since Spain in 2008-09.