Tennis

Czech Republic pulls even with Spain in Davis Cup final

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Associated Press
11/16/2012 6:43:49 PM
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PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Tomas Berdych beat Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 to draw the Czech Republic level at 1-1 with defending champion Spain after the opening singles matches Friday in the Davis Cup final.

The sixth-ranked Berdych's win came after David Ferrer earlier swept Spain to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Radek Stepanek in the opening match.

In a thrilling final set, Berdych allowed the big-hitting Almagro to come back with a break in the seventh game before breaking him again in the following game with a backhand winner that hit the side line.

Unbeaten in the competition in 2012, Berdych won the fifth of six encounters with Almagro this season when the Spaniard's return went wide on his first match point.

"The point is extremely important for us," Berdych said. "Under the circumstances ... that's the maximum what we could get today. I'm extremely happy for that. We're one all. That's a good step for us."

His victory keeps alive Czech hopes of a first Davis Cup title as an independent nation since the former Czechoslovakia split in 1993. Spain, which is without the injured Rafael Nadal, is playing for its fourth Davis Cup title in five years.

Friday's results line up a tantalizing doubles match on Saturday.

Ivo Minar and Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic were originally scheduled to play Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, who won the ATP World Tour Finals title in London on Monday. However, Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil is expected to bring in Berdych and Stepanek, who are 11-1 in Davis Cup doubles.

Berdych said he was ready for two more games over the weekend.

"I'll definitely be there," he said. "I think that the human body is a very strong engine. I will definitely get everything what I get there. Whatever, four hours, five hours. Just need to get ready again and tomorrow is another."

After they were swept by Spain 5-0 in the 2009 final on clay at Barcelona, the Czechs hoped a fast indoor hard court would work in their favour.

But both, Almagro and Ferrer adapted well to the surface.

"The Spaniards perfectly adapted to it," Navratil said.

Berdych served out the first set with an ace before Almagro improved his game to fight back in the second set, serving five aces and hitting 17 winners.

Almagro double-faulted to lose a break in the third set to trail 3-0 before his backhand volley hit the net on Berdych's first set point.

Almagro served 21 aces compared to Berdych's 13 and hit 64 winners, 12 more than the Czech.

"We played a really good tennis," Almagro said. "He played really aggressive at the end with 4-3 in the fifth set. That's the key, I think."

Ferrer, who hasn't lost in the competition since 2010, put the visitors 1-0 ahead after closing out his second match point.

"In the important moments, I played better than Radek," he said.

Ferrer also beat Stepanek in five sets in the 2009 final that Spain swept 5-0.

Racing into a 5-2 lead in the third set with a forehand return winner, the Spaniard made sure he avoided a long drawn-out contest.

Though Ferrer subsequently double-faulted to allow Stepanek to reduce his lead to 5-4, he prevailed when Stepanek's backhand hit the net. He now has a 7-3 career record against the Czech.

"I won in three sets. That's perfect. I'm very happy to win my game," Ferrer said.

At the start, though, Ferrer seemed unable to find his rhythm on the fast hard court at the O2 Arena and made seven unforced errors in the first five games.

His opponent gave him a helping hand.

Stepanek opened the sixth game with two double faults before saving seven break points and prevailing in a game with 11 deuces that took more than 20 minutes. The opening set was 58 minutes long.

The sold-out crowd of more than 13,000 chanted "Radek, Radek," but the Czech produced another three double faults in the eighth game, giving Ferrer a chance to serve out the first set at love.

"Today, the biggest difference was in the serve," Stepanek said. "I completely lost the timing of my serve. I couldn't put him under pressure. When I played a lot of points from the second serve, his part of the game was more effective than mine."

Stepanek, who put in only 56 per cent of his first serves, continued to struggle and was broken again at the start of both the second and the third sets.

In Sunday's reverse singles, Berdych is scheduled to face Ferrer and Stepanek will play Almagro.

Czechoslovakia won its only title in 1980, when Ivan Lendl led the team to victory.

"I hope the (Czech) guys will win," said Lendl on Friday. He was watching the finals with all the other member of the 1980 winning team, including Tomas Smid, Pavel Slozil and Jan Kodes.

Tomas Berdych (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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