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16 September 2011

Czech stars deliver expected lead


MATCH REPORT

By 

  • Adam Lincoln

Photo: Robert GhementRadek Stepanek (CZE)

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA: Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek have given Czech Republic a commanding 2-0 lead over Romania after day one of this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-Off at Centrul National de Tenis. The success didn’t come without its worrying moments, though, leg cramp afflicting Berdych as he desperately tried to close out a resilient Victor Crivoi in the second singles rubber.

Earlier, Czech No. 2 Stepanek had struck the opening blow for the visitors. Ranked more than a hundred places above his opponent, Adrian Ungur, the 32-year-old veteran’s experience held sway in a contained performance, 63 62 60.

“The first set was pretty good - I had a lot of chances, a lot of break points,” said world No. 129 Ungur afterwards. “But I didn’t know how to take them, and that was it. I think I just have to forget about this match and start over.”

Indeed, as the combatants found their footing in the opener, 26-year-old Ungur held his own for 2-2. He even held three break points in the fifth game but could not keep the ball in play on any of them, and Stepanek held on for 3-2. The Czech broke again for 4-2, and after fending off a further three break points in his next service game he was ahead 5-3.

While Ungur stopped the rot by holding his next service game, Stepanek recovered from 0-30 to pocket the opener, and kept the momentum for 4-0 in the second set. Again Ungur rallied to get on the scoreboard, but it was too late to prevent his rival from assuming a two set lead.

 At one stage in what would prove to be the final set, the Romanian’s first service percentage fell below 30 percent. By contrast, Stepanek consistently hit his mark at least 75 percent of the time. Still, Ungur found himself with another break point at 0-3, however his ball missed the baseline by inches he was down 4-0 and with a very big mountain to climb.

The underdog had a point to get on the scoreboard in the next game, but a backhand pass and a well-chased drop shot gave Stepanek the only chance the world No. 25 needed to serve the match out.

“He surprised me the first three or four games, how quickly he was playing,” said Stepanek. “But once I got to know his game and his rhythm I got complete control of the match. I was all over the place and I didn’t give him a chance to make a comeback.

“I’m happy I didn’t lose my concentration when I was winning,” he added. “I didn’t want to get myself into any troubles, serving out sets. Definitely, after all these years playing Davis Cup, the nerves are different. You feel the pressure, always. The difference is how much you let the pressure eat you - or you eat the pressure.”

That left Romanian No. 2 Crivoi to dine on the reality that his opponent was ranked more than 200 places above him. Although the outcome would be the same as the match before, the 29-year-old gave Czech No. 1 Berdych plenty to think about, especially in the third set.

Ninth-ranked Berdych, quick out of the blocks, was soon ahead a set and a break. But to his credit Crivoi didn’t crumble: keeping the ball in play long enough to draw errors from his more flashy rival, he pulled level at 3-3 before Berdych reasserted his authority to take a two-set lead.

The final set began to a similar pattern, Berdych racing to 3-0 but Crivoi reeling him in. But this time the Romanian fended off a break point that would have given the Czech a chance to serve for the match at 5-3, and held firm for 5-5. Though unable to convert an all-too-rare break point for 6-5, he kept the contest alive by saving four match points on his next serve, forcing the tiebreak as Berdych clutched at his leg.

Nevertheless, as Crivoi would later note, he wasn’t the one feeling the pain – just the line-splitting shots coming from the other end of the court, and the new pressure of playing someone who isn’t 100 percent. While the Romanian was first to seize a mini-break with a forehand to the corner, Berdych’s power proved overwhelming when it needed to be. A crosscourt winner gave the world No. 9 three more match points and he ended the contest on the second, 63 63 76(4).

“It was really tricky at the end – this was my first experience with this sort of trouble on the court,” said Berdych, adding that his recent shoulder injury is no longer an issue. “That created a lot of tension for me, but that’s sport. I’m just really happy I was able to finish in three sets.”

While the Czechs nominated Jan Hajek and Lukas Rosol to play Saturday’s doubles rubber, Berdych suggested he might step up with Stepanek in hopes of closing out the tie 3-0. That will depend on his recovery, among other things. In any case, the Romanians must feel the window of opportunity is still open, for Horia Tecau is one of the top doubles specialists in the world, recently spending time in the Top 10.

Tomas Berdych (CZE) - 16/09/2011

Victor Crivoi (ROU) - 16/09/2011

Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 16/09/2011

Adrian Ungur (ROU) - 16/09/2011

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  • OUR REPORTER IN BUCHAREST

    Adam Lincoln

    A tennis umpire in his student days in Australia, London-based Adam Lincoln went into business journalism but is very happy to have returned to his first love – and relieved that he doesn’t have to follow the ball quite as closely now. He writes mostly for the WTA, as well as the ITF.

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