BUCHAREST, ROMANIA: They came, they saw, they conquered. Czech Republic arrived in Bucharest with its cherished place in the World Group at stake, but with two reliable stars at the vanguard the result was perhaps never really in doubt.
After winning their respective singles rubbers against Romania’s Victor Crivoi and Adrian Ungur on Friday, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek combined to seal the tie 3-0 in Saturday’s doubles, overcoming a strong start by Horia Tecau and Marius Copil to win in four sets. Victory in the bank, Sunday’s reverse singles were left in the hands of unheralded Lukas Rosol and Jan Hajek, who completed the 5-0 shut-out. In the fourth rubber Rosol, ranked 69th and playing his first Davis Cup match at the age of 26 overcame 20-year-old Copil 76(2) 64. Then Hajek, 28 years old and ranked world No.150, defeated Victor Crivoi, 64 61.
“It definitely means a lot for us players, for our fans, for our whole country,” said Stepanek. “We had great runs in the two years and got close to achieving our goal of getting the Davis Cup back to Czech Republic. We’re very happy that we’ve given ourselves another shot in the World Group next year.”
They might have conceded just one set all weekend but the Czechs did endure, as one member of the camp put it, some sweaty moments. Ironically these were not caused by the shoulder injury that hampered Berdych at the US Open, but by his first-ever leg cramps in the third set against Crivoi. That the world No. 9 was able to secure the win anyway was, for Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil, the gold star effort of the tie.
“I was very happy that my guys were ready to play,” said Navratil, quick to point out the hosts were hurt by the absence of their top-ranked player, Victor Hanescu. “Tomas wasn’t able to practise for too many days before he got here, and then he nearly had to default his singles match. Still, he was fighting for his country. I am very satisfied.”
Key, too, was the return of Stepanek, who was missing when the team was shocked by Kazakhstan in the first round. Indeed, while Berdych is the ace in the pack if the Czechs are to be title contenders in 2012, Stepanek illustrates the value of a strong No. 2. It can only be good news for the Czechs that the 32-year-old has no plans to hang up his racquet anytime soon.
“Tennis has gotten more physical than in past generations, but as long as my body allows me to keep up with the other guys, I will keep playing,” he said. “It takes hard work to do that but so far I’m doing a good job, so we’ll see.”
For his part, Romanian captain Andrei Pavel had little choice but to be philosophical – and hope that Hanescu is back in action next year when the side battles it out in the Europe/Africa Group I competition.
“The quality of the tennis from the Czech team was just too high for us,” Pavel said. “We tried our best but you could see the difference in the rankings. I had high hopes for the doubles and they started really well, but they couldn’t keep it up.
“I love my team, I love my boys, we are great friends,” he added. “As captain I want to do a lot but, you know how it is, everyone has their own coach and we come together for two weeks of the year. Still, for the lower-ranked players it’s great experience to play against a Top 10 guy, a Top 20 guy. They can see that the difference is only a little bit – but that little bit makes a big difference. They have to start to believe, and work a little harder for what they want.”
Captain Andrei Pavel (ROU) - 18/09/2011
Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 18/09/2011
Lukas Rosol (CZE) - 18/09/2011