OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek extended their impressive winning partnership in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas to put the Czech Republic in a commanding position in their World Group first round tie against the Netherlands, beating Jean-Julien Rojer and Robin Haase in four, tough sets.
After singles victories for Haase and Berdych on Friday, the Czechs moved into the lead for the first time in this tie thanks to their 75 16 76(2) 76(4) doubles success in three hours and 57 minutes.
They are aiming to become the first nation since the World Group began in 1981 to win three straight Davis Cup titles and will now be strong favourites to advance to the quarterfinals ahead of Sunday’s reverse singles, which should see Berdych and Haase – the respective No. 1s – meet in the opening rubber of the day.
“What it does to win a doubles match is that it gives you the advantage that your opponent has to win both of the matches the next day,” Dutch captain Jan Siemerink said afterward. “Now we have to win both matches tomorrow to go through. That’s going to be tough.”
As to whether Haase – who has played nearly eight hours of tennis so far this weekend – would be named to face Berdych, Siemerink said: “I don’t have to decide it right now, we’ll see how it is tonight, and we can even decide tomorrow morning.”
As expected on Saturday, Berdych and Stepanek – who can now boast a 15-1 winning record together in this competition – replaced Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely in the Czech line-up, while Dutch captain Jan Siemerink decided Haase, and not the designated Thiemo de Bakker, would partner the team’s doubles specialist, Jean-Julien Rojer.
Indeed, Rojer and Haase also have fine pedigree as a pair in the Davis Cup, having won all four doubles rubbers they have played, including against Olympic champions Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in the 2012 World Group play-offs.
Both pairs staved off break points at the start of the first set before settling into their stride, although the Berdych serve continued to look the more vulnerable.
That was underlined as Haase brought up three set points for the Dutch at 5-4 when he reacted brilliantly to Berdych’s driven forehand, but the world No. 7 dug himself out of trouble with a powerful serve down the line. The Czechs would go on to save a further two set points, sparking a chorus of trumpets and vuvuzelas inside the CEZ Arena.
Buoyed by their resolve, they inched ahead in the next game, with Stepanek deflecting a crosscourt forehand past a bewildered Haase to seal the break. The same player – who picked up a Davis Cup commitment award prior to the match – then clinched the set moments later, before hopping back to his bench like a man possessed, his determination clear for all to see.
The Dutch pair finally penetrated Stepanek’s serve to move into a 3-1 lead in the second set and immediately followed that up by breaking Berdych, the 28-year-old surrendering with a double fault. Despite some brief Czech resistance, they saw out the set 6-1, and suddenly a comeback seemed very possible.
But the pendulum swung back in the host nation’s favour in a topsy-turvy third set, with the Netherlands again nudging ahead on the Berdych serve, only to squander an opportunity to win the set when receiving at 5-3. Haase was the culprit, driving a backhand over the line.
Another set point came and went as the Dutch No. 1 then failed to serve it out, to the delight of the home fans, whose noise in between serves appeared to cause him to lose his cool in the tie-break – the net cord bearing the brunt of his frustration.
Haase later explained his anger was down to the net machine not going off. “It was [also] how the match went at that stage, and of course some frustration came out. I needed to get rid of it to play better again. I don’t justify what I did there, but sometimes you need it,” he said.
From an unlikely position earlier in the set, the Czechs secured a quick mini-break in the breaker and never looked back, Berdych tucking away a backhand volley to prompt the irate Haase and Rojer to sulk off to the bathroom.
Breaks of serve were traded in the opening exchanges of the fourth set, before the Dutch pair saved three break points at 5-5 to ultimately force another tiebreak. This was closer than the first one, but Berdych and Stepanek once again prevailed, the match ending with a superb to-and-fro at the net, which culminated in Haase sending a backhand volley long.
The victory puts the Czech pair on ten-game winning streak in this competition since So what is it about their partnership that makes it work so well?
“I think the connection we have from the first moment we came together in the team, the will, the desire to be successful in Davis Cup,” Stepanek said. “From my side, I have the best partner in the world. I’m happy and lucky to have such a partner. We have a great chemistry between each other and we always back each other up.”
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Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 01/02/2014
Captain Jan Siemerink (NED) - 01/02/2014