OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil can start planning for a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinal after his leading lights, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, put the hosts into an unassailable 3-0 lead over visitors Italy in Ostrava on Saturday afternoon.
After thrilling the locals packed into the CEZ Arena with crucial singles victories 24 hours earlier, Berdych and Stepanek produced a masterful doubles display, outplaying Potito Starace and Daniele Bracciali to complete a 63 64 62 victory that lasted two minutes short of two hours.
Navratil had initially nominated youngster Lukas Rosol and doubles specialist Frantisek Cermak to go in search of a third point, but after only a few minutes of Saturday’s doubles it was clear why the Czech captain had sent out his big guns to finish the job.
Berdych was dominant in all departments, producing easy power from all areas of the court, while Stepanek, recently crowned Australian Open doubles champion alongside India’s Leander Paes, produced some wonderful touches, angles and changes of pace. It was obvious to see why the duo have lost just once together in Davis Cup competition. This was their ninth victory in ten outings.
Their reward is a quarterfinal tie, most likely with 2010 champions Serbia, who lead Sweden 2-1 on Saturday night, while Italy must now win a World Group play-off in September to retain their position among the elite 16 nations in the world.
The Czechs wasted no time in stamping their authority on the contest, shellshocking the Italians by taking Starace’s serve on their way to a 3-0 first set lead. The visitors held two break points with Stepanek serving at 3-1, but once they had slipped away the remainder of the 39-minute opener was never in doubt as the Czechs surged in front.
Again, it was an early break of serve that put the Italians on the back foot in the next set. Bracciali was serving at 40-0 in the third game, but moments later the Czechs somehow had the break and he and Starace were sitting down trailing 2-1. Although Corrado Barazzutti’s men managed to hang onto their serves for the remainder of the set, in truth they never threatened to get back on level terms, failing to carve out a single break point.
The third set was a similar story too. When Bracciali lost his serve in the opening game of the set, there was no way back for the Italians. The Czechs secured the comfort of a double break later in the set and after Stepanek had served out the match when he stepped up to the line at 5-2 the celebrations could begin.
“We’re happy that we were able to finish the match in three sets,” said Stepanek. “We broke them in the first game and put them under a lot of pressure from the start.”
Berdych added: “We’ve played enough matches to know each other well on court - where the other guy’s moving, what he’s doing - so that’s a big advantage. We’re both singles players and we can bring our best games to the [doubles] court.”
After watching yet another dominant display from his two highest ranked players, Czech captain Navratil was oozing pride. “The doubles was pretty easy,” he said. “My guys were playing very good tennis. For Starace, this surface is very difficult for him - too fast. I think [Berdych and Stepanek] are one of the best doubles teams in Davis Cup right now.”
All Italian captain Barazzutti could do was to concede the better team had won. “Berdych and Stepanek played very, very good,” he said. “I’m maybe a bit disappointed in my team because I thought they could play a lot better than they did today. But the Czech Republic deserved their victory.”
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Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 11/02/2012
Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 11/02/2012
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 11/02/2012