OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: Tomas Berdych completed a hat-trick of wins this weekend by beating Netherlands’ Thiemo de Bakker to see two-time defending champion Czech Republic safely into the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinals.
Thanks to their victory in Saturday’s doubles rubber, the Czechs only needed one point on the final day to wrap up the tie. Berdych duly obliged as he brushed aside de Bakker 61 64 63 in little over one and three-quarter hours to set up a last-eight clash with Japan, 4-1 conquerors of Canada.
“We really wanted to win this one,” Berdych said. “Always the first round is the cutting edge of success; [losing] means playing off to stay in the World Group, which could be extremely difficult. But we passed that, we won the first one.”
In a somewhat strange move before the match, Dutch captain Jan Siemerink brought in de Bakker to replace the more experienced Robin Haase, who had already spent eight hours on court this weekend. Sadly for Siemerink, the gamble didn’t pay off.
Given de Bakker’s relatively strong Davis Cup singles record, which includes two wins against higher-ranked opponents, it was perhaps surprising this encounter was so one-sided. He had also emerged victorious from his last meeting with Berdych, a straight sets success on the clay of Bastad last year.
However, the world No. 7, who defeated Igor Sijsling in his first singles rubber before continuing his successful partnership with Radek Stepanek in Saturday’s doubles, strolled through the first set for the loss of just two points on serve, barely having to get out of second gear.
De Bakker offered a bit more resistance in the second set as he fended off a break point in his opening service game, before succumbing again in game five. With the Dutch No. 3’s error count steadily rising, it was only a matter of time before Berdych clinched the set, which he did with his seventh ace of the match.
At one stage, de Bakker, with an anguished look on his face, glanced across to Siemerink as if to ask, ‘What do I need to do to beat this opponent?’ The answer would never be found.
“[It was] a tough match,” de Bakker conceded afterwards. “I have to give him credit. He played really well the whole weekend. He’s just so consistent; he doesn’t give you anything. I dropped my games now and then and he didn’t. And if you drop it, he goes over it.”
To be fair to the man ranked 139 in the world, most players on the tour would have struggled to compete with Berdych in this form. Fresh from his run to the semifinals of the Australian Open, the 28-year-old dictated play from the baseline, mixing up his groundstrokes to perfection. When he had to come to the net, he was imperious.
The third set followed a similar pattern to the previous two, and when Berdych broke for the second time to go 4-1 up, de Bakker was all but done for. Improving slightly, he did manage to pull one break back, but the Czech responded immediately, firing his 35th and final winner to secure the victory – his nation’s 10th in a row in this competition.
Igor Sijsling brought a degree of respectability to the final score as he recorded a straight sets win over Lukas Rosol in the dead rubber, but all the questions for Siemerink afterwards were why he opted to drop Haase.
“Robin was not 100 per cent fresh to go and Thiemo was, so that’s why I decided, together with Robin of course, to change that,” the captain said. “[But] the way Tomas was playing today was great; I don’t think we could have done anything different against him.”
Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil, meanwhile, can start to look to forward to the trip to Tokyo, although he probably won’t be able to call on Berdych, who appeared to rule himself out of the tie.
“For us, I think it’s better to go to Japan than Canada,” Navratil said. “But Japan has a very good player for the future, a young one, Nishikori. I hope we win in Japan and come to the semifinals.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live Scores or Watch Live
Thiemo de Bakker (NED) - 02/02/2014
Captain Jan Siemerink (NED) - 02/02/2014
Tomas Berdych (CZE) - 02/02/2014
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 02/02/2014