OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: Czech Republic will begin their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round contest with visitors Italy as red-hot favourites after captain Jaroslav Navratil named an intimidating full-strength line-up at the draw ceremony in Ostrava on Thursday.
In-form world No.7 Tomas Berdych will spearhead the home side’s challenge with the experienced Radek Stepanek slotting in behind him for the second singles. Berdych has lost just one match so far this season and captured the seventh title of his career in Montpellier last weekend. Stepanek is also brimming with confidence after recently claiming the Australian Open doubles title with India’s Leander Paes.
Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti will hope his nominated singles players - world No. 42 Andreas Seppi as his No. 1, and No. 135 Simone Bolelli as No. 2 - can upset the odds stacked against the visitors when they step into the sold-out, 7,500-capacity CEZ Arena, an ice hockey venue that has been transformed into an impressive tennis facility for the three-day tie.
Stepanek and Seppi will kick things off at 4pm local time on Friday, with Berdych and Bolelli following them onto court. Saturday’s doubles will see Lukas Rosol and Frantisek Cermak team up for the Czechs against Potito Starace and Daniele Bracciali, before the reverse singles on Sunday.
Not only are rankings and form against the Italians, who are playing in the World Group for the first time since 2000, history too suggests it will be the Czechs who will book their place in April’s World Group quarterfinals against either Serbia or Sweden.
The Czechs lead 7-3 in the two nations’ head-to-head record, the most significant of those contests coming in 1980 when Ivan Lendl led Czechoslovakia to its only Davis cup title to date. Not surprisingly, Navratil is backing his men to get the job done.
“We are very confident and I’m very happy that Radek is back on the team because last year we lost to Kazakhstan in the first round [without him]. Right now, Tomas is in top form. He played well in Australia and he won in Montpellier last week against Gael Monfils [in the final] which is great for his confidence.”
Perhaps the only worry for Navratil is whether Berdych has recovered physically and mentally after a tiring week in southern France, but the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up insists he is fresh and ready to go.
“I got home on Sunday night and came here on Monday. I hit once on Tuesday, twice on Wednesday and I’ll hit again today. I feel good. Everything’s good.”
Italian captain Barazzutti revealed that his second-highest ranked player Starace has been suffering from a fever, a problem that forced him to pick Bolelli for the opening day’s play. He believes the opening rubber, which presents Seppi with an opportunity to get the visitors on the board against Stepanek, is of huge significance.
“We know that we play against a very great team, but we are excited to be back in the World Group. We don’t come here to lose. I think Seppi has a very good chance to beat Stepanek and we have a very good doubles team, so we’ll see what happens every day. Stepanek against Seppi is very, very important for us.”
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA)
Captain Jaoslav Navratil (CZE)