PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Assuming the mantle of Serbian No.1, Janko Tipsarevic was not found wanting in the pressurised atmosphere of the O2 Arena in Prague on the opening day of his team’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal against Czech Republic.
With his team trailing 1-0 after Tomas Berdych had comprehensively thrashed Viktor Troicki and defeat inside two days staring them in the face, Tipsarevic rose to the occasion quite splendidly to square the tie.
Just this week elevated to No. 8 in the world, Tipsarevic showed he could handle the pressure that comes with his new found status, by fending off three match points to beat Radek Stepanek 57 64 64 46 97 in five hours and seven minutes of largely pulsating tennis. For the last two sets it was Davis Cup at its finest as the momentum shifted back and forth, but this is not the view of Tipsarevic.
To the disbelief of a packed press room he described it as “the worst performance of my Davis Cup career”. In time he may think more favourably of it, but an altercation with his opponent at the end of the match may have coloured his view, at least that is the opinion of his captain, Bogdan Obradovic. Three times he was prevented by his own teammates from having further words with Stepanek afterwards.
It was an unfortunately sour finish to what had been a thrilling match for spectators, even if the result was not what the home crowd at the O2 Arena had hoped for. The situation may not have been as daunting as two years ago when these same two players were handed the unenviable task of winning a place in the final, but both men were still subjected to huge pressure, over and above the usual pressure which comes from representing one’s own country.
Stepanek very nearly had his revenge for that straight sets defeat two years ago, but couldn’t quite produce what would have been a famous victory for the 33-year-old, one of many he has managed in this competition.
Even his captain Jaroslav Navratil, on the eve of the tie, had accepted the likelihood that Czech Republic would need to win the doubles to take a lead into the final day. With hindsight he wished that Stepanek had lost more speedily and saved himself for the doubles on Saturday, not to mention another possibly decisive fifth rubber, but Stepanek is too much of a warrior when it comes to Davis Cup to lose meekly.
He had shown great resilience in winning the first set but the loss of the second set initially seemed crucial. If the finishing line then looked a long way off to Stepanek – they had already played for quarter of an hour longer than the first rubber – he certainly didn’t show it.
Ultimately, even with the adrenalin pumped into him by a 12,000 crowd he wasn’t quite able to carry his weary body across the finishing line, Tipsarevic saving one match point at 6-5 down on his own serve and two more a couple of games later.
The match very nearly turned on a controversial decision by umpire Pascal Maria on the final point of the fourth set when he ruled out a second serve by Tipsarevic when both players and both benches thought it good. In the end it proved immaterial. When presented with two match points of his own, Tipsarevic literally grasped them with both hands - a double-handed backhand down the line for the winner.
Both players believe they will have recovered in time for the doubles. However, it is more likely that Tipsarevic will be kept for the crucial reverse singles against Berdych. As for Stepanek, Navratil has little option but to risk him; the pairing of Berdych and Stepanek is generally regarded as a safe point for the Czech team.
With the huge crowd at his back like a strong wind, Berdych sailed into a 4-0 lead in the first set and from that point never looked back. Troicki wasn’t helped any in those formative stages of the match by numerous double faults, including one on the very first point of the match.
The choice of clay looked a good one as Berdych’s big game proved almost as damaging as it does on a hard court – he hit 44 winners, three times as many as Troicki. “The surface suits much more the Czech team than us,” said the Serbian No. 2 after the 62 61 62 defeat.
It was obvious from the start that Troicki was allowing outside influences to affect his game as he complained about crowd noise and once even the pressure of the balls. Meanwhile, Berdych went steadily about his business taking an early command of the both the first two sets.
Almost inevitably victory was clinched on Troicki’s serve with a backhand return winner, whereupon Berdych high-fived it the length of the Czech bench as the home nation dreamed of a quick-fire victory. They very nearly got it, too.
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Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 06/04/2012
Captain Bogdan Obradovic (SRB) - 06/04/2012
Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 06/04/2012
Janko Tipsarevic (SRB) - 06/04/2012
Viktor Troicki (SRB) - 06/04/2012
Tomas Berdych (CZE) - 06/04/2012