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14 September 2013

Czech Republic book Final berth


By Craig Gabriel

Photo: Martin SidorjakRadek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych (CZE)

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Davis Cup by BNP Paribas stirs passions like no other tennis event in the world. In Prague the atmosphere was glorious, with amplified sound from the Czech and Argentine cheer squads.

When the Czechs sealed victory to put themselves into the Final for the second straight year and the third time in five years, the supporters from both teams continued to cheer for a long time, as is correct for two great sporting nations, respectful of each other to the end.

The home team took an unassailable 3-0 lead over Argentina, the same nation they beat in the semifinals last year in Buenos Aires when Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek defeated Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos 63 64 62 in two hours three minutes.

“It’s definitely very exciting; Davis Cup means a lot, it’s special for us, for the whole country,” said Stepanek. “We loved so much delivering the trophy last year – it never gets old and we’d like to keep that trophy because it’s beautiful.”

Berdych and Stepanek are most definitely the “go to” team for the Czechs even though they were not originally nominated for the doubles. No one doubted for one minute that the Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil would play to his strength and nominate his two best players for the critical doubles.

“Everything was in the right place, we didn’t drop a serve and we were taking out chances,” said Berdych. “There was not many easy games for the opponents which was important to us because you can put pressure [by taking] your chances. It was all perfect, [we worked] well [together]. When it was tough games we saved it pretty good with pretty tough shots. We played one of [those] very good matches we [can] play together.”

For a moment, it looked like the plan might not work as midway through the first set Stepanek moved awkwardly and pulled up lame. A look of horror swept across the faces of all Czechs in the stadium as they watched the US Open doubles champion hobbling around, unable to put his right foot on the court. Gradually he recovered, retied his laces, put his hand up to signal ‘It’s fine, thank you,’ and continued to play.

The crowd exhaled with relief, as did Berdych and Navratil.

Stepanek served in the next game and survived a break point and, from then on, his movement was untroubled. The Czechs broke the Argentines in the eighth game and Berdych served out the set, ending with a winning smash from Stepanek.

The vital seventh game in the second set was the break the Czech Republic was pressing for as Berlocq lost serve. Zeballos worked hard to fend off two break points, one of those brought up by a glorious backhand crosscourt passing shot struck by Stepanek. It was so good that Zeballos applauded.

A game later, Berdych’s big serve did more damage as the fast court helped pay dividends and the world No. 5 closed out a two-sets-to-love lead with a smash.

In the third set the Argentines were still trying hard, but turning the match seemed out of reach. Berlocq was broken in the fifth game and then on the Argentine’s next service game it was Zeballos who was broken when he failed to flick up a return that landed very low.

It was up to Berdych to serve out the victory, and he did a game later after saving a break point, with an emphatic service winner. The crowd erupted with cheers and Tomas and Radek embraced.

“It feels great. This competition means a lot to us and as long as we can keep our winning streak, it’s great,” said Stepanek. “It’s an honour to play in front of a home crowd. They follow us around the world no matter where we play. This is a thank you to them for their support.”

It was disappointment for Argentina, who are yet again denied the chance to win a first ever Davis Cup, but their players were gracious in defeat with captain Martin Jaite still proud of their efforts without the likes of Juan Martin del Potro and David Nalbandian.

“We played a great team,” he said. “We played the best team at the moment in Davis Cup with Berdych and Stepanek. They have a great record and it was very tough to play against them.

“It was obviously important to have been able to have Del Potro and Nalbandian but David was injured so we didn’t expect to have him here and Del Potro decided last year to not play in 2013. It’s tough for us but we did win against Germany and France without him and we got to a semifinal without him, but with him we have a better team.”

Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live

Captain Martin Jaite (ARG) - 14/09/2013

Horacio Zeballos (ARG) - 14/09/2013

Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 14/09/2013

Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 14/09/2013

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