OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: When Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil and the man in charge of the Italians, Corrado Barazzutti, announced their teams at Ostrava’s City Hall on Thursday, finding a way to win three rubbers was beginning to look like a tall order for the visitors. And so it proved. Having already secured victory by winning Saturday’s doubles, the Czech Republic completed a comfortable 4-1 scoreline after Sunday’s singles were split.
The Czech Republic’s leading lights, world No. 7 Tomas Berdych and the crafty Radek Stepanek, arrived in the freezing north-eastern industrial town in red-hot form after strong starts to their respective seasons. Berdych had impressed at the Australian Open where he lost a titanic quarterfinal battle with Rafael Nadal before going on to pick up the seventh title of his career the day before arriving in Ostrava when he beat Gael Monfils to lift the indoor Montpellier title. Likewise, Stepanek had recently added to his collection of silverware by returning from Melbourne with the Australian Open men’s doubles trophy.
Perhaps the only surprise during Friday’s opening singles inside a noisy and atmospheric CEZ Arena was that the two powerhouses of Czech tennis were detained on court for so long. After waking up early on Friday morning with a fever and only rising from his bed at gone lunchtime, 33-year-old Stepanek dug deep to see off Italian No. 1 Andreas Seppi in five sets before Berdych eventually found a way past an inspired world No. 135 Simone Bolelli in four.
As soon as the Czechs had established a 2-0 advantage, Berdych and Stepanek insisted they should return for Saturday’s doubles in search of a third point and they were in a different class to their opponents, Potito Starace and Daniele Bracciali, who dropped serve early in each of the three sets and never seriously mounted much of a challenge. The Czechs then added to the Italians’ misery on Sunday when the relatively inexperienced Lukas Rosol, a stand-in for the rested Berdych, fought his way past Seppi 46 63 64 before Bolelli spared his side’s blushes by beating Stepanek’s replacement, doubles specialist Frantisek Cermak 64 64.
The Czechs can now start planning for an intriguing quarterfinal home tie against 2010 champions Serbia, and will begin wondering whether or not world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will commit to the April tie. Even with Djokovic on the team, the Serbians won’t look forward to a trip to the Czech Republic where the hosts will look to gain revenge for the 3-2 defeat they suffered in Belgrade in the 2010 semifinals.
“Yesterday I spoke with Tomas and Radek and they believe we have a good chance to beat Serbia,” said Navratil. “I hope, I hope! I think the chances are 50-50. It’s a very, very difficult match though. We can choose the surface but it makes a big difference whether Djokovic comes or not. I will wait to see. If Djokovic comes everybody will be happy, though, and I think the arena will be completely full.”
For Italy, champions in 1976 and who were appearing in the World Group for the first time since 2000, it’s back to the familiar territory of the play-offs. Barazzutti will hope he can steer the Italians back into the elite group of 16 nations for the 2013 competition by winning a tie that will be played on 16-18 September.
Barazzutti’s side was missing its second highest-ranked player, Fabio Fognini, through injury this week and said he hopes to have the world No. 53 back soon.
“Fognini is very important for the Italian team,” he said. “We need Fabio to come back. We hope that in September he will be there.
“The Italian Tennis Federation has a very great tradition because we won the Davis Cup. It’s very important for us to stay in the World Group but we know there are many teams who are very strong.”
Lukas Rosol (CZE) - 12/02/2012
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 12/02/2012
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 12/02/2012