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10 November 2012

In-form Stepanek keeps eye on final


Photo: Sergio LlameraRadek Stepanek (CZE)

Radek Stepanek is through to the semifinals in the doubles at the ATP World Tour Finals, but he is still keeping one eye on the forthcoming Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final in Prague.

The Czech star, who has been in action alongside India’s Leander Paes at London’s O2 Arena this week, will be a key man if the Czech Republic are to win their first Davis Cup title as an independent nation next weekend.

The last time the Czechs lost a tie when Stepanek wasn’t in the team was away to eventual champions Serbia in 2010’s semifinal in Belgrade. And there is little doubt as to the regard with which his partner on tour holds the 33-year-old veteran.

“He is a phenomenal tennis player,” Paes told the ATP in an interview earlier this week. “He reads the game so well, but what makes him great is that he’s hard working, he takes direction really quick as far as doubles stuff goes, and he also shares on certain things that I need to do better.”

Paes revealed that during off days in London the pair had been booking a practice court for a two-hour slot but had only been playing as doubles partners for 20 minutes. Why? Because Stepanek had wanted to get an hour’s singles practice in ahead of the Davis Cup Final at the O2 Arena in Prague.

Not that the arrangement hadn’t been working for both players, given their unbeaten run to the last four, including a victory over arguably the greatest doubles team in the world - Bob and Mike Bryan - on Saturday.

Paes added: “I just got to keep him happy. He’s such a phenomenal singles player, phenomenal doubles player, now he has won some Grand Slams. What he’s done for his country in Davis Cup over many years now and really with the calibre of a player like that, you’ve just got to keep them relaxed.”

Stepanek and Paes are scheduled to play Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in the semifinals on Sunday and if they win they will be in action again on Monday, which will mean a quick turnaround for the Czech before he must focus fully on winning the Davis Cup on home soil.

His compatriot, Tomas Berdych, upon whose broad frame rests a huge amount of expectation in his native country, made an early exit from the ATP World Tour Finals. Berdych defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga but came unstuck against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and the 2012 Olympic gold medallist and US Open champion Andy Murray.

In total there were five players on show at the O2 in London who will also be playing in the venue of the same name in Prague. As well as the Czech duo, David Ferrer, Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez were all in action at the year-end championship.

Ferrer couldn't reach the final after Juan Martin del Potro defeated Roger Federer in the last of the round-robin matches on Saturday. Meanwhile Granollers and Lopez are through to the semifinals following a victory over Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer.

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