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18 November 2012

Stepanek leads Czech Republic to victory


MATCH REPORT

Photo: Paul Zimmer/Martin SidorjakRadek Stepanek (CZE)

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Radek Stepanek creates his own little piece of history by becoming the first man aged 30 or over to win a decisive fifth rubber in 100 years.

The 33-year-old Czech outwitted his Spanish opponent to lead his side to a 3-2 victory at the O2 Arena in Prague.

It was an emotional scene after the match as Stepanek, who was battered and bruised from two falls at the net, was hugged by his team-mates and then approached his wife with tears rolling down his cheeks.

The veteran vaulted the net and waved his arms to signal to the crowd that something special had happened inside the O2 Arena in Prague. Czech Republic become the first nation to win the Hopman Cup, Fed Cup and Davis Cup in one year and will have their name go down in history.

A full match report and reaction to follow...

Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live


CZECH REPUBLIC WINS THE 100TH DAVIS CUP FINAL!!!

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 36 63 Almagro
A long first point and Almagro finds the net to make it 15-0. Stepanek tries to put too much on his second serve and goes long for 15-15. The Czech fails to pick up a volley at his feet and it sails well long to slip to 15-30. He hits an ace out wide (nice time to do that) to make it 30-30. Another big serve and it's match point to Stepanek. Almagro hits the net and Stepanek throwshis racket in the air. He's on his knees. The Czech bench bundle in. Stepanek is battered, he's bruised, he's in tears and the crowd is in the mood to party.

Stepanek 64 76(0) 36 5-3 Almagro*
Almagro buries a forehand into the net and the crowd erupts with delight. I think they are going to cheer every mistake with even more gusto than a winner for their man. Welcome to your first Davis Cup Final Nicolas! The Spaniard hits a forehand on the baseline, which Stepanek challenges incorrectly to make it 15-15. Another mistake from Almagro and another raucous cheer from the crowd. The Spaniard comes back to 30-30 but some awesome defense from Stepanek again and Almagro nets to make it match point at 30-40. Almagro remains calm and comfortably puts away a backhand volley. He moves Stepanek from side to side on the next point and now it's the Czech who hits into the net. Almagro holds with a backhand error from Stepanek and now the Czech will serve for the title.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 36 5-2 Almagro
Jake Garner has to ask the crowd to stop calling "out" as it looks to have put off Almagro much to Alex Corretja's dismay - the Spanish captain is having words with referee Andreas Egli. Stepanek hits long to make it 15-15 before the Czech  slips at the net once more (this is a hard court remember) and looks to have hurt his hand again but he wins the point when Almagro hits long on the attempted passing shot. The Czech vollies another winner to go 40-15 up but then is forced into an error by Almagro to make it 40-30. The Spaniard wrong foots his opponent at the net to pass him with that lovely single-handed backhand and it's deuce. Gulp. A big first serve and an approach by Stepanek rushes the Spaniard into another error to make it advantage Czech Republic. Another serve and volley attempt and Stepanek gets it all wrong to go back to deuce. He's sticking with game plan A as he serves and vollies again and Almagro hits long again to make it game point to the Czech before a first serve is spooned out by the Spaniard and Czech Republic are one game away from a first Davis Cup title as an independent nation.

Stepanek 64 76(0) 36 4-2 Almagro*
Almagro with a 40-15 lead but Stepanek gives a masterclass in counter-punching to produce a wonderful winner on the run. The Spaniard holds though with a good comeback of his own.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 36 4-1 Almagro
Stepanek with a 30-15 advantage tries to force his approach and finds himself in all sorts of trouble at the net. Almagro can't quite pass but does enough to force the error. The Spaniard smacks a forehand that hits the top of the net and bounces out and then Stepanek smashes his way to a 4-1 lead. Eye of the Tiger is playing again...

Stepanek 64 76(0) 36 3-1 Almagro*
Once again Stepanek is cheered to the back of the court by his team and also by his countrymen. The atmosphere is electric inside the O2 Arena right now. Almagro takes a 30-0 lead with two rather sloppy mistakes from the Czech (who can blame him - he must be exhausted) but Stepanek finds the baseline and the Spaniard can't react quick enough to the ball skidding through as he puts a forehand into the net. Stepanek pushes wide before a sliced backhand forces another error from his foe to make it 40-30. Stepanek approaches the net and is so clinical with that volley of his that he brings up deuce. Even Ivan Lendl is on the edge of his seat. Stepanek buries a backhand second service return into the net before Almagro hits a peach of a winner on his backhand side to put himself on the scoreboard in the fourth set.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 36 3-0 Almagro
An ace to start followed by a pair of errors (one on each wing) from Almagro and Stepanek finds himself 40-0 up. Another ace and it's the perfect start to the fourth set by the Czech.

Stepanek 64 76(0) 36 2-0 Almagro*
Stepanek bounces back to the other end of the court keeping his eyes on his fans the whole time as if to try to draw on their support to keep him going. It looks to have worked when he takes a 15-0 lead but he gets drawn into a long rally on the very next point and puts a sliced backhand into the net for 15-15. Almagro double faults - his sixth of the match - before Stepanek hits a lovely forehand winner from the middle of the court to bring up two break points. Miles long from Almagro on the first serve and then he blasts a forehand way out to hand his opponent the break at the earliest opportunity. Not sure where that came from but the Czech crowd is deafening.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 36 1-0 Almagro
An entertaining break between sets there. The Spanish continued to chant to their man, encouraging the comeback, meanwhile the whole Czech team to the locker room, probably to give their man some inspiration. Spain captain Alex Corretja whispers in Almagro's ear and presses his forehead against his player's brow, no doubt saying how much belief he has in him and all of that before the players have even gone back on court! Is it me or does Stepanek look like he's running out of gas? He slips to 15-30 as Almagro powers home another winner before both players hit the net cord, with the luck shining on the home man as it deflects long. He holds with a big first serve that Almagro buries into the net.

THIRD SET SPAIN 63

Stepanek 64 76(0) 36 Almagro*
Another ace from Almagro - his 14th of the match - brings up 30-15 on the scoreboard. He follows that up with another big first serve that Stepanek cannot return in play to give himself two set points. Stepanek fires a winner off the return on the first before hitting into the net to hand the third set to the Spaniard. Can he come back? Stepanek takes a quick break while the Spanish bench chant at their man.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 3-5 Almagro
A fifth ace of the match for Stepanek and the Czech comes back from 15-30 down to 30-30. He proceeds to win the next two points with mistakes from Almagro to make the Spaniard serve for the third set.

Stepanek 64 76(0) 2-5 Almagro*
A sweet backhand winner on the return of serve from Stepanek makes it 15-30 but Stepanek pushes it centimetres long and then Almagro fires down two huuuuge ace (215 km/h and 209 km/h to be precise) to hold.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 2-4 Almagro
Almagro with a sensational forehand winner cross court for 15-15 before Stepanek steps in and punishes a short ball with his backhand, which, without wanting to jinx it, has been so good today. Talk about finding your best form for the big occasion. The Czech hits a forehand well long of the baseline to make it 30-30 before failing to do enough with a forehand at the net, which enables Almagro to pass him with a lovely backhand. Stepanek hits a backhand long (I jinxed it) and the Spaniard has a break in the third.

Stepanek 64 76(0) 2-3 Almagro*
Almagro keeps his composure with an important hold despite a couple of tricky points from the Czech. The crowd take the opportunity to stretch their legs as it has been non-stop excitement.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 2-2 Almagro
Stepanek moves ahead 30-0 but three mistakes from the Czech as he tries to find that extra width mean that he faces break point at 30-40 down. Stepanek hits an ace to save himself in game four but another winner from Almagro and now it's the Czech who is on the ropes. Another break point saved with another ace but this time it's only proven by Hawkeye much to the disbelief of the Spaniard. Almagro, grunting louder and louder as he takes his anger out on the ball, forces another break point with some huge hitting. Break point number three is saved with another big first serve that Almagro can't control. Stepanek at the net and Almagro tries to pass but fires too low and then the Czech conjures up another backhand winner down the line to hold. What an important hold that is!

Stepanek 64 76(0) 1-2 Almagro*
A backhand into the net brings up 30-30 but Almagro soon has game point only to mis-hit an overhead into the net to bring up deuce. Stepanek's defense is quite simply immense in this game and he keeps himself alive in a point only to try an audacious drop shot which misses by whiskers. Almagro gets lucky with a net cord that leaves the Czech stranded mid-court and he puts a backhand winner away to go 2-1 up.

Stepanek* 64 76(0) 1-1 Almagro
Stepanek is playing his sixth deciding fifth rubber in Davis Cup. He has won two and lost three of his previous five, with his most recent  victory coming over Juan Monaco in the 2009 quarterfinals. At this rate the Czech could be on course to make a bit of history as he's playing out of his skin. Question is if it goes the distance will his older legs still have enough in them to carry him over the line?

Stepanek 64 76(0) 0-1 Almagro*
It looks like Almagro is still a bit shell-shocked from that bagel in the tiebreak. He drops to 0-40 but then comes racing back, saving all three break points before holding with some good play to rush his opponent into a mistake.

SECOND SET CZECH REPUBLIC 76(0)

Stepanek 64 76(0) Almagro
Dramatic start to the tiebreak! Stepanek acrobatically falls at the net, grazing his knee in the process, but somehow recovers his footing to smack a winner on the forehand side. Almagro blasts a forehand out and then fires into the net on his right-hand side in successive shots to hand Stepanek a 3-0 advantage in the breaker. Another error from Almagro - despite the challenge - and then a rushed attempt at a passing shot from the Spaniard and Stepanek is only two points away from the second set at 5-0. He looks to his hand where he fell at the net and let's hope that doesn't become an issure in the match. Stepanek with another winning volley and he has a 6-0 in the tiebreak. Almagro looks to his bench at the change of ends as if to say "What can I do?" Nothing is the answer. Stepanek with another backhand drive down the line and it's two-sets-to-love. The whole Spanish team take to the locker room. Amazing stuff.

Stepanek 64 76(0) Almagro*
Two hours on the clock and Almagro slips to 0-30 from the outset with two shots outside the lines. He fires down an ace to salvage 15-30 but can't find the passing shot on the forehand side as he pushes it inches wide to give Stepanek two more set points. Almagro saves the first with a well worked point, moving his opponent out wide with the serve and then to the other side with his backhand and then hits a big 208 km/h ace to bring it to deuce. He doesn't know when he's beaten! Stepanek errs this time after a long baseline duel and Almagro fires down another big serve but the Czech somehow gets it back and the Spaniard hits long to bring about another deuce much to the delight of the horn-tooting crowd. Another good serve from Almagro and Stepanek can't get it back in play and then the Spaniard finally holds with some strong groundstrokes. The Spanishs bench are singing to their man!

Stepanek* 64 6-5 Almagro
Stepanek sees the ball fly past him at the net to go 0-15 down but then a good volley, a strong serve and a change of pace see him race ahead to 40-15. Stepanek hits a cheeky drop shot that has his opponent running in vain. The Spaniard will have to serve to stay in the second set for a second time. What a match we've got on our hands here!

Stepanek 64 5-5 Almagro*
Like a man half his age Stepanek glides up to the net and cuts off a point to make it 30-30 and just when he looks to have played another winner at the net Almagro creates a wonderful angle to hit a winner across court on his forehand to make it 40-30. Almagro misses a forehand to put the score at deuce and then Stepanek wins an edge-of-the-seat rally with a wonderful winner of a backhand down the line to earn set point. Almagro hits a great second serve into the body and Radek can only hit an awkward backhand wide. Another set point for Stepanek as Almagro hits long shortly after the Czech crowd were in denial that his serve was in. Stepanek tries a passing shot which floats long and then is adjudged to have hit beyond the baseline by the line judge. How he would like a challenge there. The Czech vollies into the net on the forehand wing to gift the game to Almagro.

Stepanek* 64 5-4 Almagro
Oh my goodness there are more twists and turns in this match than in a murder mystery. Stepanek drops to 0-30 courtesy of a sloppy second serve that goes long. He works his way back to 15-30 with a great volley but then falls to 15-40 when his net play lets him down. He saves the first with a fine first serve out wide that Almagro fails to return and then keeps himself alive with some wonderful serve and volley tennis - good old fashioned stuff that. Berdych is beaming as he applauds every point won by his team-mate. Alamgro blasts long and Stepanek has held. Now the Spaniard must serve to stay in the second set. Deja vu.

Stepanek 64 4-4 Almagro*
That will do for the crafty Czech. He earns two break points with a well-constructed point to go 15-40 up, but Almagro saves the first as Stepanek tries to come in to the net at the wrong time before passing his opponent with a great backhand. Wowee.

Stepanek* 64 3-4 Almagro
And now it's the turn of Stepanek to hold with ease. To love to be precise. Making good use of the new balls there. He needs to find something special in his armoury if he's going to get back in this game.

Stepanek 64 2-4 Almagro*
Almagro, still eating banana as he starts the game, finds more of a rhythm on his first serve and holds for the loss of just one point. Stepanek changes rackets as this match swings in favour of the away team.

Stepanek* 64 2-3 Almagro
That just might be what the Spaniard needed as he hits a great backhand passing shot across the face of the court to win the first point in the 5th game. Stepanek uses up his last remaining challenge in this set and in so doing drops to 0-30. Stepanek hits a big first serve to make it 15-30, then misses to drop to 15-40. Stepanek with a little luck as he fails to put away a smash but Almagro nets on the subsequent shot and gets a Czech "death stare" for his troubles. It looks like Stepanek hits an ace but it is ajudged to be out and Almagro attempts to come in on the second serve but can't pick up the return which is low by his feet and it's a break to Espana.

Stepanek 64 2-2 Almagro*
Almagro wins a long exchange before blasting the ball to the other end of the court and in so doing nearly hitting his opponent. Stepanek gives him a disparaging look and it's all starting to get beautifully tense. Stepanek, despite his years, is sticking with Almagro in the longer rallies and it's the Spaniard who nets to make it 30-30 after a particularly gruelling exchange. Almagro with a lucky escape when Stepanek makes the wrong choice to attempt a drop shot at the net and then the Spaniard hits a sublime backhand winner while screaming Vamos to make it 2-2.

Stepanek* 64 2-1 Almagro
It's an oft overused expression but this competition shows a different side to the players. Passion, excitement, nerves, dismay. This cocktail of emotions is bubbling around the O2 Arena right now as Stepanek puts in a great service game to hold to love.

Stepanek 64 1-1 Almagro*
It was always going to be key how the players started this match and that first set looks to have lifted the crowd into near delirium. Almagro blows a 40-15 lead with a couple of mis-timed groundstrokes and then has to face break point when he finds the net again. Is it the pressure? Is it Stepanek's quirky play? Either way he's finding the going difficult. A long rally with each player planted on the baseline and it's the Czech who makes the mistake to allow Almgro to hold. But he fires another backhand well long to face another break point. Stepanek into the net this time so that's two saved for the Spaniard. How crucial could this game be? Almagro hits an ace to have his own game point and then Stepanek forces another error from the Spaniard to bring about another deuce. Almagro misses another game point opportuntiy before the best rally of the match sees the Czech finish off a fabulous game of cat and mouse with a deft touch at the net. Break point number three is saved with another big serve from the Spaniard, who then hits a forehand winner down the line to earn another game point. He finally holds when Stepanek hits a return long.

Stepanek* 64 1-0 Almagro
A certain Davis Cup Radio journalist called Craig Gabriel said Czech Republic would win this tie with Stepanek defeating Almagro in the fifth rubber. As much as I don't want to say it I think he might be right. Stepanek has all the positivity coursing through his veins right now while Almagro looks worried. The Czech smashes a winner down the line to hold and races to his bench almost knocking a small ball kid over!

FIRST SET CZECH REPUBLIC 64

Stepanek 64 Almagro*
Stepanek with the forehand winner cross court to make it 15-15 after he only just missed the sideline on the first point. Almagro fires wide to drop to 15-30 but Stepanek can only slice a deep backhand long to make it 30-30. Despite hitting some huge serves Stepanek is getting everything back (just) and he earns set point when Almagro hits long again - the on-court announcer has to tell the crowd to be quiet before Almagro hits a first serve out and then Stepanek forces another mistake to claim the first set and he cocks his wrist and flexes his bicep. This could be an epic.

Stepanek* 5-4 Almagro
At 0-15 down Stepanek hits what looks to be a good first serve and then looks to have the point won but the line judge thinks otherwise and Jake Garner overrules only to have to replay the point. The Czech plays two sublime vollies to move to 40-15 and then holds to force his opponent to serve to stay in the set.

Stepanek 4-4 Almagro*
Almagro looking a little stronger than his Czech opponent now holds for the loss of one point and the home crowd tries to lift its player. Could there be a break on the cards in this next game?

Stepanek* 4-3 Almagro
Tomas Berdych said in his press conference that David Ferrer was simply too good for him and that his team-mate knew what to do to bring home the final point for the hosts. He saves a break point at 30-40 when Almagro nets and then holds when he forces two errors from his opponent and skips back to his chair with right fist clenched. The only spectator that looks totally calm is Ivan Lendl. Been there done that, I guess. He would make a handy poker player.

Stepanek 3-3 Almagro*
Better from Almagro as he flies out to a 40-0 lead - perhaps he's taking inspiration from some of the greats that we have sitting courtside. He hits another double fault but makes amends with a forehand winner down the line to hold with ease.

Stepanek* 3-2 Almagro
David Ferrer is back in the Spanish dugout sucking on a lollipop. I'm not sure I have ever seen more lollipops devoured in my life than by the Spanish Davis Cup team. Perhaps that's why they are so good? Speaking of good, the wily Czech veteran moves to 30-0 with some solid play before Almagro hits a backhand winner down the line  to make it 30-15. The Spaniard pushes his backhand wide for 40-15 before forcing an error from Stepanek to make it 40-30. Can we have a game that doesn't go to deuce? Yes! Almagro misses and the Czech nudges ahead.

Stepanek 2-2 Almagro*
What's lovely to see is this is as much a battle of contrasting ways to play tha game as anything else. Stepanek, with his shorts pulled high and his serve and volley style against the swagger and strength of the clay court specialist from Spain, who feels at home with his feet near the baseline. Almagro races out to a 40-15 lead before finding the net with a deep shot from the Czech and then Stepanek hits a winner down the line on his forehand flank to force ANOTHER deuce. An ace from Almagro and then an error from Stepanek and it's 2-2.

Stepanek* 2-1 Almagro
Stepanek does have a lovely touch at the net - that's why he's so good at doubles. He approaches off a first serve and half vollies a short one which Almagro fires long. Another forced error from the Spaniard and it's 30-0. Stepanek with a good kick serve which Almagro can't return and we're at 40-0, before the Czech hits a backhand into the net for 40-15. A rare Stepanek error on the volley - I think it just came at the wrong height for him - and it's 40-30. A forehand into the net from Stepanek again and we're back at deuce. I think we're in for a long one folks. Almagro just hits a passing shot long (Hawkeye confirms) but Stepanek can't convert with another shot into the net. The Czech shows those lovely net skills once again before hitting a big first serve to hold. Twenty-one minutes and we're at the first sit-down. Goodness it's close.

Stepanek 1-1 Almagro*
A lot of fuss was made about the speed of this court before the tie but the truth is that all of the Spanish players have taken to it like a duck to water. Almagro drops to 0-15 when Stepanek plays a great forehand and then the Spaniard offers an opening to the Czech, who blasts long to go 15-15. Alamgro with the big serve fires down an ace but back comes Stepanek, winning an exchange at the net before Almagro double faults to hand the older man break point. Stepanek hits a second serve return into the net to bring about the second consecutive deuce game. Almagro clips the top of the net and Stepanek reacts quickly with a drop shot - Almagro can't get there and scoops the ball into the net. A long rally ensues with neither player doing much with the ball (nervous?) and Stepnek tries to create an angle but pushes it wide. Almagro hits an ace that just clips the edge of the centre line and then proceeds to double fault as a second serve takes a nasty deflection off the top of the net and lands long. A great second serve from Almagro rises too high for Stepanek to deal with and it's game point for the Spaniard again. He hits an ace to hold.

Stepanek* 1-0 Almagro
Radek Stepanek won the toss and chose to serve. He starts with a backhand winner down the line and then Almagro wins his first point of the match with a criply struck forehand. Stepanek serves and vollies to great effect the next point but Almagro draws it level at 30-30 with a backhand that flies past the Czech. Stepanek earns game point with a great double-handed backhand winner but then hits long to bring about deuce. Almagro with another rasping return earns the advantage but Stepanek puts away a good volley to save teh early break. He fires down an ace to go to advantage himself before hitting long once more for a third deuce. Stepanek finally closes out the game with two good first serves. Wow. What an opener.

*Denotes server

Captain Jaroslav Navratil (CZE) - 18/11/2012

Radek Stepanek (CZE) - 18/11/2012

Nicolas Almagro (ESP) - 18/11/2012

Captain Alex Corretja (ESP) - 18/11/2012

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