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09 April 2012

Czechs line up title challenge



  • Clive White

Photo: Srdjan StevanovicRadek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych (CZE)

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Argentina away sounds like a rough reward for all Czech Republic’s efforts in beating Serbia 4-1 in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group quarterfinal in Prague. Jaroslav Navratil, their captain, naturally prefers to look on the bright side: they could be playing away to Spain!

There is, of course, a lot of tennis to be played between now and their September semifinal – three Grand Slams, an Olympics and five Masters 1000 events just for starters – which translates into a lot of physical punishment for the players in question. It hadn’t escaped Tomas Berdych’s attention that Argentina aren’t always able to bring their strongest hand to the table because of injuries.

“Argentina are a really strong team,” he said. “When Spain are without Rafa [Nadal] and [David] Ferrer, they are the toughest opponent of all to play. But it’s not often that they are able to play their strongest team, so if there’s not going to be [Juan Martin] del Potro or [David] Nalbandian in their team our chances become much better.”

Clutching at straws? Possibly. As Mick Channon, the former England-striker-turned-horse-race-trainer, once said: “Players frequently miss league games, they rarely miss cup finals.” And the same might apply to Davis Cup semifinals, particularly ones of this magnitude.

What Czech Republic did prove once again in Prague was their versatility. According to Serbia’s stand-in No. 1 Janko Tipsarevic, the clay surface gave them no advantage whatsoever. One had the impression they could just as easily have beaten Serbia on a hard court or even a grass court. Argentine clay will hold no fears for them. “Even if we play outdoors our chances are really good,” said Berdych.

It’s unlikely that the Czech captain will dwell overly long on past history when talking to his players about this tie. The Czechs may have won the last time the two countries met, in a quarterfinal in Ostrava three years ago, but they did so only just and Nalbandian was unavailable for that tie. Del Potro and Nalbandian hold a superior head-to-head record in three of the four match-ups with the Czechs’ top two.

Instead it might be better if Navratil concentrates on how favourably the Davis Cup records of Berdych and Radek Stepanek compare with those of del Potro and Nalbandian: the two Czechs have won a combined total of 54 rubbers against their Argentine counterparts’ 45. Of course, a lot of those Czech wins – 10 apiece – came from having Berdych and Stepanek in harness in doubles, whereas the Argentine duo have never played Davis Cup doubles together.

Nevertheless, it says much about the Czechs’ experience in this competition – not to mention their superior team spirit. While it can be safely assumed that the name of Stepanek will have been deleted from Tipsarevic’s future Easter card list after their altercation in the singles on day one, even he had to admit that the Czech doubles team is second only to that of the United States (the Bryan brothers).

Berdych’s mental fortitude impressed many over the weekend, particularly when playing Tipsarevic, against whom he came from behind in all three sets to beat. His willingness to come to the net suggested he could yet improve on his No. 7 ranking, at which he has been stuck – if that’s the right word – for the best part of 14 months. If Bogdan Obradovic, the Serbian captain, is right in his assumption that Tipsarevic will soon break into the Top 5 then certainly Berdych is capable of doing the same.

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    • Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych (CZE)The O2 Arena, Prague
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    O2 Arena, Prague, Czech Republic

    Full details


    Clive White

    Clive started writing about sport at the 1966 World Cup final, since when, he says, it’s been all downhill... for England if not necessarily himself. He joined The Times at 21 before moving to the Sunday Telegraph where he provided worldwide coverage of tennis and football. As ghost writer to John McEnroe for six years, Clive learned that sport, far from being a matter of life and death, was, in fact, much more serious than that.



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