Davis Cup stalwarts the Czech Republic will attempt to make their third final in five years when they take on Argentina this weekend.
The 2012 champions had a tough start to their title defence. Playing away in Switzerland in February, they had to recover from the loss of the opening singles rubber and win the doubles match 24-22 in the decider – the longest doubles match on record – to make it to the quarter-finals. Tomas Berdych was the hero on that occasion, partnering Lukas Rosol in that epic and winning both of his singles matches in four sets. The Czechs enjoyed a more straightforward outing against Kazakhstan in April, winning the first three singles rubbers to take an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Argentina blitzed Germany 5-0 in the first round in 2013, but their quarter-final clash with France went down to the wire. It was eventually Carlos Berlocq who thrilled the Buenos Aires fans with a four-set defeat of Gilles Simon in the decisive singles rubber, after the formidable Jo-Wilfred Tsonga won both of his matches.
Argentina has a 1-4 losing record against the Czechs in the Davis Cup, and the absence of Juan Martin Del Potro immediately makes the hosts favourites for this tie. The Argentine team now consists of Berlocq (Bio), Juan Monaco (Bio), Horacio Zeballos (Bio) and Leonardo Mayer (Bio). Although Monaco is an excellent hard court player and an experienced campaigner, he hasn’t enjoyed a great season and is a combined 2-11 in his head-to-head with the Czech Republic’s nominated singles players, Berdych (Bio) and Radek Stepanek (Bio).
Mayer will also take on singles duties for the visitors, and while he’s beaten Stepanek before, he’s never played Berdych. Rosol is set to team up with Jiri Vesely against Berlocq and Zeballos on Saturday, but team captain Jaroslav Navratil could substitute Berdych or Stepanek for the doubles rubber, depending on the results of the opening day’s singles matches.
All signs point to a decisive win for the Czechs. Tomas Berdych is one of the world’s best hard court players, and there are few more wily and determined competitors than the ultra-experienced Radek Stepanek. Even if Juan Monaco can summon his best tennis and upset one of them, a lot will have to go right for Mayer, Berlocq and Zeballos to back him up.
With the raucous support of a capacity crowd in Prague’s O2 Arena, we can expect the Czechs to book a spot in yet another Davis Cup showpiece.