BUCHAREST, ROMANIA: Having fallen prey to a classic Davis Cup boilover against Kazakhstan in March’s World Group first round, Czech Republic, finalists just two years ago, must now defend their status in the competition’s elite tier. Their opponents in this weekend’s World Group play-off are the Romanians, who may lack the rank and experience of their opponents, but will be hoping the home advantage in Bucharest can help them pull off a Kazakh-style upset.
The hosts face a huge task, however. For one thing, the country’s No. 1, 78th-ranked Victor Hanescu, will not be taking to the court. At the age of 30, the team competition stalwart has decided to step back, perhaps prompted by a string of first round losses over the summer. This leaves 26-year-old Adrian Ungur, currently ranked No. 129, and 29-year-old Victor Crivoi, who sits just outside the Top 200, left to fly the flag against formidable Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek.
In their favour, Romania come with an element of mystery – indeed, none of this weekend’s designated singles representatives have met in a pro match. Also, while Berdych and Stepanek have been slogging it out on hard courts, the Romanians have been toiling away at ITF events around Europe. They should be well acclimatised to the clay that is the stage for this tie.
“We are the underdogs, they are by far the favourites, but Davis Cup is a team competition and you never know what can happen,” said Romanian captain Andrei Pavel, whose squad was beaten 4-1 by Argentina in the first round. “The conditions are good, the court is perfect. I’ve been trying to get the guys to think about the positive pressure of the situation, rather than see it as negative.”
Berdych’s fitness may also be a factor that plays into the hands of the home boys. The world No.9 has enjoyed a superbly consistent season, highlighted by a win over Roger Federer last month at Cincinnati. But he retired from his next match, the semifinal against Novak Djokovic, due to a right shoulder injury – and retired again against Janko Tipsarevic in the third round of the US Open. Still, he says he is back to fighting form.
“It was tough in the States, especially at the US Open,” admitted Berdych, who turns 26 on Saturday. “But I had the best care from the doctors and physios and I think I’m 100 percent ready to go on the court again.” He added: “We got a lot of experience from losing in the first round when we were favourites. I hope that means this one is not going to be the same.”
Indeed, adding insult to injury, the defeat to Kazakhstan was at home in Ostrava. But on that occasion they were without their wily No. 2, Radek Stepanek, who was injured. Now 32, the former top tenner won a singles title at Washington during the summer and has moved back up to No. 25 in the rankings. He promises to stamp his mark this time.
At Thursday’s draw, Lukas Rosol and Jan Hajek were named to play Saturday’s doubles for the Czechs. Things could change, but the Romanians might fancy their chances in this rubber: Horia Tecau cracked the Top 10 in doubles in August, and is currently ranked No. 13. He is slated to partner Marius Copil, who turns 21 next month.
This weekend marks the fifth time these sides have met, but it’s their first meeting in a decade. The Czechs won that 2001 encounter 3-2, and lead the overall series 3-1. Czech Republic – competing as Czechoslovakia until 1992 – has spent just one year out of the World Group since the format’s creation in 1981. Only USA and Sweden share this record; they want to keep it that way.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Adrian Ungur (ROU) v Radek Stepanek (CZE)
R2: Victor Crivoi (ROU) v Tomas Berdych (CZE)
R3: Marius Copil / Horia Tecau (ROU) v Jan Hajek / Lukas Rosol (CZE)
R4: Adrian Ungur (ROU) v Tomas Berdych (CZE)
R5: Victor Crivoi (ROU) v Radek Stepanek (CZE)
Live scores of this tie will be available on the Davis Cup website, and live radio commentary of the World Group semifinals will also be broadcast.
Tomas Berdych (CZE) - 15/09/2011
Victor Crivoi (ROU) - 15/09/2011
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 15/09/2011
Captain Andrei Pavel (ROU) - 15/09/2011
Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 15/09/2011
Adrian Ungur (ROU) - 15/09/2011