A fantastic clash between World No. 2 Novak Djokovic (Player Profile) and Radek Stepanek (Player Profile) opens the 2013 Davis Cup Final Friday afternoon. The contest takes place on the clay courts in Belgrade in front of approximately 15, 500 exhilarated Serbian fans. There is much at stake on Friday afternoon as Djokovic attempts take an early lead on opening day of action to get one step closer to regaining the title for the first time in three years. For Stepanek, this is an opportunity to upset the Serbian star and take a crucial lead en route to their first Davis Cup title defence. The Djokovic vs Stepanek Head to Head stands at 8-1.
Djokovic will go out on court tomorrow afternoon with a little extra weight on his chest knowing that the team’s No. 2 player Janko Tipsarevic is injured and has been forced to withdraw from the final. The loss means the second spot will be filled by World No. 117 Dusan Lajovic, which does not bode well for the Serbian team’s chances in the second match of the day against Tomas Berdych. This places Djokovic in a must win situation tomorrow afternoon when he looks across the court at World No. 44 Radek Stepanek.
Apart from the pressure, the World No. 2 has to deal with the issue of fatigue, as he has admit that he may be “fresh” heading into the Davis Cup tie. Having embarked on a 22-match winning streak dating back to his US Open loss to Rafael Nadal, Djokovic has since won titles in Beijing, Paris and London. He toppled Nadal on Monday afternoon in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals championship match and booked his flight for Belgrade, where he arrived on Tuesday. While he may not be 100 percent this weekend, Novak believes that the support of his hometown crowd will be essential to their success.
“The crowd support is very important, maybe crucial,” said Djokovic. “Not just in my match but in the match of Dusan Lajovic. The crowd is actually a key player in those matches. With their support, if’s the same as what we have had in previous years, then everything is possible.”
Following the Davis Cup semi-final tie in September, Stepanek won two Challengers tournaments (Mons, Orleans), reached the quarter-final in Vienna but finished the season with a loss in the opening round in Basel. He has compiled a 15-16 record on the ATP World Tour this season with a 2-6 record on clay.
“There is no tougher cookie than this one, playing Novak in front of his own crowd after the run of form that he has had,” said Stepanek. “Definitely it’s a challenge but all I can do is try to play my best tennis and see where I can push him. While Stepanek will likely play his heart out tomorrow afternoon, he understands that it does not get much more difficult that a opening rubber against the former no. 1.
“There is no tougher cookie than this one, playing Novak in front of his own crowd after the run of form that he has had,” said Stepanek. “Definitely it’s a challenge but all I can do is try to play my best tennis and see where I can push him.
“I am ready to do no matter what it takes. If I have to be on the court five hours a day, this is my job. I’m here for the team and I’m here for my country to give everything.”
Stepanek has only defeated Djokovic once on the professional tour, in a contest that took place seven years ago in Rotterdam when the Serb was ranked no. 81. Since then, the Serb has won seven consecutive matches against World no. 44, bringing their head-to-head record to 8-1. Stepanek is yet to win a single game from Djokovic on clay courts, which is a significant stat that will likely factor into the match tomorrow.
Prediction: Djokovic in Straight Sets