PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: The hosts are out for revenge against Serbia in this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinal at the O2 Arena in Prague, but it would be a mistake to believe that a Czech Republic win is a mere formality.
Serbia dashed Czech hopes of reaching consecutive finals when they came back from 2-1 down in a semifinal tie in Belgrade two years ago en route to their first Davis Cup title.
And now the Czechs, led by the same duo of Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, are keen to capitalise on the absence of the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and book a place in the last four, where they will meet either Argentina or Croatia.
The world No. 1 is here in Prague in spirit if not in person. That burning desire to reach the top that galvanised his fellow countrymen is still evident among the Serbian players who would happily bust a gut to get their country to the latter stages of the competition and then step aside to allow the great man to return. How many other country’s players would willingly do that? It says much about the Serbian team’s sense of unity.
The question is, will Serbia still be alive and kicking in this competition when Djokovic is willing and able to compete? The odds are slightly against it. This is arguably the closest of the four ties and one of those few occasions when the choice of surface could prove immaterial.
In fact, neither Tipsarevic nor Obradovic believes it gives the Czechs an advantage. “My players were actually born on the clay courts,” said Serbia’s captain. “We’ve practised for four days and before that Janko and Viktor [Troicki] had two days on clay in Serbia so we’ve had the same court time as the Czech team.”
Tipsarevic puts his rise to No. 8 in the rankings down to becoming more focussed away from the court. “I think the biggest change [in my game] is determination and the fact that I’m paying more attention to details outside of a tennis court,” he said. “I was always a hard worker, giving everything I have on the court, but little things away from the court, being professional 110 per cent is what has changed my game.”
Although the tie itself is a hard one to call, the outcome of the opening day’s singles play looks relatively straightforward. So much so that Jaroslav Navratil, the Czech captain, is looking past it to the end of the second day’s play when he fully expects Czech Republic to be holding a 2-1 lead, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek having put their country back in front, even though he has named Frantisek Cermak and Lukas Rosol to play the doubles.
Navratil’s crystal ball would no doubt reveal that Berdych, the world No. 7, will prove far too strong for Troicki in the opening rubber. By his own admission, the Serbian is not playing as well as he did 18 months ago when Tipsarevic pulled off victory in the fifth and final rubber against Stepanek.
If the Serbians were “born on clay” the Czechs have grown to love it more and more; Berdych reached the semifinals of Roland Garros in 2010 and Stepanek has been a Masters finalist on the rusty-coloured stuff (Hamburg ‘06) which is more than the two Serbians can say.
However, there ought to be too much momentum to Tipsarevic’s game at present for Stepanek to stop him in his tracks in the second of Friday’s rubbers, not to mention a six-year age difference. Stepanek, of course, scoffs at such a disadvantage, having just become a grand slam champion for the first time at the age of 33, in Australia. To him it’s just a number.
He also won the doubles title at the Miami Masters with the same partner - Leander Paes - so he comes to Prague with his crafty “old school” game in good working order and, most importantly, sufficiently rested, according to Tipsarevic.
He will be hoping that he can bring that doubles expertise into play crucially on Saturday. The old Davis Cup warrior doesn’t need to be told what a great opportunity this is for him to add to his silverware. As he said, “with Djokovic in the team they could count on two points no matter what”. But without him?
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Tomas Berdych (CZE) v Victor Troicki (SRB)
R2: Radek Stepanek (CZE) v Janko Tipsarevic (SRB)
R3: Frantisek Cermak / Lukas Rosol (CZE) v Nenad Zimonjic / Ilija Bozoljac (SRB)
R4: Tomas Berdych (CZE) v Janko Tipsarevic (SRB)
R5: Radek Stepanek (CZE) v Victor Troicki (SRB)
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Tomas Berdych (CZE) - 05/04/2012
Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 05/04/2012
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 05/04/2012
Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) - 05/04/2012
Viktor Troicki (SRB) - 05/04/2012
Captain Bogdan Obradovic (SRB) - 05/04/2012