PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: United States apart, few countries around the world can rely on a point from the doubles rubber with the same confidence as Czech Republic. The match-up on day two of this Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final, however, looked fraught with difficulties for Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek against a successful new Spanish combination. We should have known better.
That old maxim in tennis about top singles players - particularly those who play regularly together - normally being too good for doubles specialists was reconfirmed as the Czech duo beat Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez 36 75 75 63 to score their 12th win in 13 rubbers but more importantly take a 2-1 lead into the final day of this 100th final.
Any idea that they are within touching distance of their first title since their one and only success in 1980, when they went by the name of Czechoslovakia, however, would be a big mistake. One point can never have seemed so far away.
The subdued, almost tetchy manner of the Czech players afterwards told one that they knew only too well they still have it all to do: only a fool would take victory over David Ferrer for granted and that goes for better players than the Czech No. 1 Berdych. While the recuperative powers of this two-man team will be sorely examined like it never has been before, the outcome of this final will probably be determined more by brain than brawn and possibly a little know-how, too.
If Ferrer does manage to maintain his winning 5-3 record over Berdych in Sunday’s opening rubber, the deciding rubber promises to be a nerve-jangling affair. The wily old Stepanek, who has played more than three times as many Davis Cup ties as his scheduled opponent Nicolas Almagro, wasted no time in getting to work on the mind games.
“Yesterday he played very well against Tomas but they already had a point in their locker room so he played very freely,” he said. “When it comes to the last rubber it will be a completely different story.”
Initially, in Saturday’s doubles, it looked as if the Spanish pair would transfer their excellent form at London’s O2 Arena, where they won the Barclays ATP World Tour doubles finals last week, to Prague’s slightly smaller version of the same venue when they took the first set with ridiculous ease.
There were concerns, from the home side’s point of view, that Stepanek’s nightmare start on day one was about to continue on day two as he served two double faults to concede his opening service game. Berdych just felt it was a matter of getting used to a different style of play than they’re used to.
Their plan of targeting Lopez was probably well conceived but didn’t look like producing dividends as long as the man alongside him – Granollers – continued his inspired form. The Czechs eventually managed to break Lopez in the fourth game of the second set by punishing a second serve that was sometimes less than 80 mph, but Spain promptly broke back.
The set remained in doubt until the 12th game when the Czechs forced three break points on the Lopez serve. The Spanish saved all three but then capitulated on a fourth. Even in defeat, Spain knew that they could score a victory, by fully extending the Czechs prior to another heavy work load on Sunday and kept level pegging with them through the third set until they succumbed again in the 12th game.
But they couldn’t sustain their effort in the fourth set when what Stepanek referred to as “something extra” in the game of top singles players clearly separated them from the Spanish, although after all his success in the doubles game this year he might almost see himself as a doubles specialist now.
Ferrer and Almagro can be relied upon to pose them a more stern examination. Berdych is obviously thinking positively and was not about to entertain the negative thoughts of a Spanish journalist, whose question in English left a little to be desired.
“Radek,” the journalist asked, “with the possibility of Tomas losing against Ferrer high...”
Not surprisingly, he never got to finish his question, but if Stepanek shows the same alacrity he demonstrated in intercepting the question in the final rubber the Davis Cup could be theirs.
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