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31 January 2014

Berdych pegs Netherlands back


MATCH REPORT

By Jonathan Crane

Photo: Martin SidorjakTomas Berdych (CZE)

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: Tomas Berdych ensured the Czech Republic would go into the second day of their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas tie against the Netherlands level pegging after cruising to a straight sets victory over Dutch No. 2 Igor Sijsling – his 28th success in Davis Cup singles play.

Robin Haase had earlier gotten the Netherlands off to a dream start in the World Group first round encounter when he fought back to down Radek Stepanek 36 64 67(4) 62 61.

Berdych didn’t have to face a single break point during his match with Sijsling, which he dominated from the outset. Appearing to show no sign of fatigue after his run to the Australian Open semi-finals, the world No. 7 raced into a 4-1 first-set lead, breaking his opponent in game four before going on to win the opener.

It was a case of more of the same in the second set, as Berdych imposed himself more and more from the back of the court. Two breaks of serve came in the third and ninth games, with Sijsling unable to find an answer to the Czech player’s formidable groundstrokes, which flew past him from all sides.

“It was a very tough match,” Sijsling conceded. “My opponent played very good tennis and he played too fast. I am disappointed, but I had Tomas Berdych in front of me, and he was playing other tennis than I’m used to, so there was a big difference in level.”

Two sets to the good, Berdych ran away with it in the third, a total of 46 winners helping him to the 63 63 60 victory in just one hour and 42 minutes. For the 28-year-old, a near-perfect day at the office.

“It was a very straight game through all these three sets,” Berdych said. “I found the rhythm really well and the strategy and the tactics that I set before the game was working pretty well, and really I was profiting from that since the first points until the end.”

But Berdych also revealed he’d been struggling for fitness since returning from Melbourne. “On Wednesday, it was probably the worst day and I was feeling terrible. And really when I imagined that I need to go on court on Friday, not really nice things went through my mind. It was the toughest transition I had in the past.”

Meanwhile, Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil expressed satisfaction at the way the day ended: “I’m OK with 1-1 because the first match was very long,” he said.

“From my side, Haase was a bit more aggressive than Radek. Tomas was playing very fast…one of the fastest matches in the Davis Cup. It was a day that nobody can play to Tomas, maybe [only] Djokovic and Rafa.”

With only four places separating Haase and Stepanek in the world rankings, their match was always destined to be a tight affair – but one that the Dutch No. 1 really needed to win to give his country a fighting chance in this encounter.

After a solid start in which each player held his first three service games – Haase doing so for the loss of just one point – it was Stepanek who drew first blood. Mixing up sliced backhands with the occasional foray to the net, he broke the Dutchman’s serve twice in succession to take the opener.

That trend nearly continued at the start of the second set as Stepanek brought up another break point, but Haase pulled out a big serve right on cue. The hold galvanized the Dutchman, who began to wear down his opponent with some punishing groundstrokes.

At 4-4, he was the next man to bring up a break point, which he converted with a passing forehand down the line. Finally, there was something for the 250 Dutch fans in Ostrava to cheer about, and Haase didn’t disappoint them as he served out the set to love.

The pair then exchanged breaks early in the third set before staying on serve for the rest of it, although Haase was the more under pressure and had to save three set points to force the tiebreak.

Stepanek – who rediscovered his deft touch – wasn’t to be denied, however, and sealed the set at the fifth time of asking when the Dutchman sent a forehand long. As the atmosphere inside the packed out CEZ Arena reached new levels, you sensed a home victory might not be too far off.

But Haase had other ideas. He moved 2-0 ahead at the start of the fourth set and then, apparently riled by the noisy Czech fans, let out a roar of relief as he prevented Stepanek from hitting back immediately in the next game.

Another break of serve followed to give him the set, and by now, the momentum had clearly shifted in his favour, with Stepanek appearing increasingly tired. It took Haase only 33 more minutes to wrap up the match, his final act a forehand that buried itself, along with the Czech’s hopes, deep in the back of the court.

“I felt comfortable, because I was playing better and better,” a delighted Haase reflected afterwards. “He had many chances but he didn’t convert almost any break points, so I thought, ‘Well he won’t get as many chances as he probably had already.’ I went with that mindset in the fourth set and it worked out.”

Stepanek, who let 15 out of 18 break point chances pass him by, was left to rue missed opportunities: “The difference was in converting the chances which I created,” he said.

“I created a lot of break chances which I didn’t use. I made silly mistakes at the end of the second set, and same thing at the beginning of the fourth. That was the key.”

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