There’s nothing quite like playing at home, especially after a lengthy absence.
Ten months after enjoying the ultimate high at the O2 Arena in Prague after winning the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final, the reigning champion will finally return to Czech Republic on September 13-15 to contest the semifinals against Argentina. And Tomas Berdych, for one, is relishing Czech Republic's long-awaited homecoming.
“It means a lot,” said Berdych of the chance to play in front of home fans again. “This year we’ve played in Switzerland, then Kazakhstan, and we were very close to playing the semifinal in France if they had won [their quarterfinal against Argentina].
“If we reach the final we will play away again, so it’s good that we get this chance to play at home. I think it would have been unfair as the champions to not have a single match at home in front of our crowd, which help us a lot. They made the atmosphere really incredible for [last year’s] final. They were like a fifth member of our team. I think they deserve to see at least one game.”
Czech Republic achieved a monumental 3-2 win over Argentina in last year’s semifinals in Buenos Aires and Berdych acknowledges that while Czech Republic played the underdog role on away soil last year, Jaroslav Navratil’s team is favoured to reach a second straight final this year.
“We are now in the position of the Argentinian team from last year," said Berdych. "We’ll try to learn from their mistakes, not that they made too many mistakes.
“We’re probably going to be the favourite and we will try to make three points and get the chance to play another final.”
In the absence of Juan Martin del Potro for Argentina, who holds a 4-2 advantage over Berdych in their six career meetings, the 6’5” Czech enters the semifinals with the formidable record of having never lost to any of the Argentine team. He is 6-0 against Juan Monaco, 3-0 against Carlos Berlocq, 2-0 against Horacio Zeballos and has never faced Leonardo Mayer.
Perhaps most impressive is his performance alongside Radek Stepanek in Davis Cup doubles, having compiled a 12-1 record together in the competition. As has so often been the case in the past, the world No. 5 feels that the third rubber could play a crucial role in the upcoming semifinal tie.
“I’ve been playing for so many years with Radek and it’s the strongest team that we have. When we play doubles together we have actually lost only once out of 13 matches which is a great record,” said Berdych. “We use so many times that point from doubles. It’s our strength.”
Whatever the outcome in Prague, Berdych is grateful for the opportunity to link up with Stepanek and the Czech team again. After his recent fourth-round loss at the US Open, Davis Cup provides a welcome change from the grind of the men’s professional tour.
“It’s always a special thing,” he said of Davis Cup. “I’ve liked team events since I was a kid. I played under 14, under 16, under 18 team [competitions] – everything I had a chance to play I wanted to be part of it. It’s something different.
“You travel alone all the time with just your team, and this is something that gives you a different experience, different atmosphere – the dinners, having the team around is nice. When the season is quite long and you have some weeks like that, I really appreciate it.”
Czech Republic plays Argentina on 13-15 September with a place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final at stake. Play starts at 3pm local time (1pm GMT) on Friday 13 September.