From left: Jaroslav Navratil (cpt.), R.Stepanek, T.Berdych, L.Rosol, I.Minar… (?), Jan Kodes, Pavel Slozil, Tomas Smid & Ivan Lendl
The Czechs become the first nation to win Hopman Cup, Fed Cup and Davis Cup within a season (they also reached the final at the World Team Cup in 2012)!
Probably it was a lifetime opportunity for each of players to enroll himself to history books as a winner of something really huge. Actually it was a 50/50 match: Almagro  isn’t an indoor specialist but distinctively higher ranked than Stepanek , whom had beaten at the US Open two months ago. Stepanek was playing third day in a row, so potentially he couldn’t endure a 5-setter, especially that he isn’t comfortable in those matches (13-21 record). Already first four games showed how balanced are strengths of them: all those games went to ‘deuces’ – seven in total. Stepanek charged the net in the 10th game at 30-all, obtained two points and it gave him the first break of the match and the set. In the 2nd set Almagro squandered a 4:2* lead, then fought off four set points (in two games) and if he had won the tie-break, the momentum would have shifted onto his side. The opening point of the tie-break was crucial – Stepanek got it at the net behind an outstanding stretch-volley – the crowd held its breath for a while because the Czech was uncertain whether he injured himself or not. The pain in his left knee was temporary though, but it might have affected Almagro’s mind, he could think that the set was his and lost concentration – Stepanek won 10 points in a row since that moment what meant not only the set (great cross-court backhand on 5th set point), but a triple break point in the 1st game of the 3rd set too. Almagro survived with a bunch of powerful serves and established his dominance. As usually he seemed extremely self-confident, however, his on court attitude isn’t an adequate expression of the state of his mind. He was broken in his opening service game of the 4th set, and quickly found himself in a difficult position of a three-game disadvantage. Stepanek was running to the net after 1st serves on a regular basis (he was unusually calm the entire match, but exploded after a dive-volley which gave him 30/15 at 4:2), and held all service games without serious problems. The Spaniard managed to get to ‘deuce’ in the 7th game, he led also 30/15 in the final game – Stepanek served an ace, and a service winner then. On second match point (the first one Almagro saved on serve with a high backhand volley) Stepanek stayed on the baseline and saw Almagro’s backhand netted in the 4th stroke. It was a moment the Czech veteran waited his long career for, a moment of a tennis illumination – he fell on his knees and soon sank in arms of his teammates. “I was dreaming about it my whole life and now we’re standing here as Davis Cup champions, it’s amazing,” said the hero of the evening. “I had a lot of chances in the second set. I was playing very aggressive today; I wanted to be the one who was more active. Even though I lost the third set, I had no doubt about my tactics. I came on the court with a mindset that I had to stay calm, hungry and concentrated. That’s what I did tremendously well today.” Stats of the match
4. Tomas Berdych – David Ferrer 2-6, 3-6, 5-7[2:25 h]
A rubber between the ranking neighbours (so on a lower layer a “who is the real No. 5?” deal), and players unbeaten this year in Davis Cup: Berdych had won 12 matches in a row (5 in doubles), Ferrer 9. Considering those facts it could have been a very tight battle – it wasn’t. Ferrer has been in sensational form this year especially in the last few weeks, he was able to cover constantly the whole court with his exceptional agility provoking Berdych’s errors, and the Czech player was almost blew out off the court. He saved a break point at 2:4 in the 3rd set, and won three games in succession, but another three collected the Spaniard, who finishes the season having won not only the most titles (7) but the most matches too (76)! “I’m very happy with my game,” said Ferrer. “I played very aggressive. [Berdych] played a lot of matches [this weekend], five sets with Nicolas, yesterday four sets. I played very focused and started very good. My first serve and forehand were very good; I hit a lot of winners. It was my best match of the year.” Berdych admitted that tiredness wasn’t the key factor, he clinched the Czech victory over Argentina on Sunday in semifinals, spending similar amount of time on court under tougher conditions (heat, hostile crowd) in the first two days of that tie.
Jaro Navratil regularly appoints other players than the Berdych/Stepanek duo to a doubles rubber before ties start, and it’s quite funny because everyone knows that Berdych/Stepanek will replace the initially designated players no matter what the outcome is after the day 1: – if it’s 2-0 they are the most reliable to finish a tie off on Saturday – if it’s 1-1 they are the most reliable to get the pivotal point – if it’s 0-2 they are the most reliable to initiate a U-turn So, this time they entered the court instead of a Minar/Rosol pair. On the other side stood self-confident reigning ‘Masters’ champions Granollers & M.Lopez. The Spaniards were better in the first 30 minutes but the things turned around when Czechs broke on first opportunity to lead 3:1 in the 2nd set. The guests broke back on Berdych’s serve, afterwards the 11th game was vital – Lopez had a mini-set point on return – the Czechs responded with three entertaining points in a row won at the net. The following set was similar, again a decisive break came in the 12th game after third set point in which Berdych could twice finish with a forehand but ultimately got the set with a backhand volley. Also Berdych concluded the match (with an overhead directly after his serve), and I’ve got an impression there’s plenty of room for his improvement in the attack department considering his singles career. Over the years he began to charge the net much more often (after powerful forehands), but if he wins doubles rubbers on a regular basis (16-1 record!) constantly running to the net after each serve, why he couldn’t transform this ability onto the singles court to improve his game explicitly from a tactical point of view?
2. Tomas Berdych – Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3 [3:57 h]
I thought that would be better (from the Spanish perspective) to designate Feliciano Lopez to this tie, because he is an indoor specialist and has a winning record against Berdych (4:3); Alex Corretja preferred to stick to his original concept that the same team plays all year (to be precise Ferrero replaced Ferrer in the first round). Almagro faced a very tough task to beat on his least favorite surface an opponent to whom had lost seven consecutive sets since Rome ’12, not having a serious chance to win any of them. Almagro broke the streak playing superb tennis in the 2nd set, but was involved in an argument on a call in the 1st game of the 3rd set. Actually the chair-umpire Carlos Ramos should have awarded the game to the Czechs, he chose to replay the point instead, and a rather calm crowd went crazy, pointing its anger towards the Spaniard, and hobbling his huge ego for 50 minutes or so. He seemed lost, but saved a break point at 1:3 in the 4th set and got back into the match. Berdych opened the tie-break with four poor errors, he was *0:5 & 3:6 down before Almagro silenced the crowd converting his third set point with an ace (12th out of 19). Berdych looked uncertain at the beginning of the decider (saved two break points in the 1st game), like a man who doesn’t have any tools beyond the serveto win this match. He raised the level of his baseline game though, and the latter stage of the 5th set was perhaps the best – there were three breaks in a row, the third one after Berdych’s backhand which clipped the line. He served out a long awaited victory with two service winners a quarter to midnight of the local time. So, very predictable outcome of the first two rubbers, doubles on Saturday should be crucial.
Stepanek’s mindset was very offensive, actually couldn’t be otherwise because with his old-fashioned ground-strokes he isn’t anymore a challenge for the rock-solid Ferrer. Stepanek played almost the entire match in a serve-and-volley fashion, he was very active on return games too, and I have to admit he showed a few times a master class at the net (37/66 ratio overall). The first interesting moment came after five games: Stepanek began his third service game with two double faults and immediate error after Ferrer’s return – this ugly game turned somehow in one of the longest games of the season – 10 deuces, 22 minutes, and the Czech player finally survived saving 7 break points in total. The momentum didn’t shift onto his side though, on the contrary, Ferrer took the next five games. He led 3:1* (40/0) in the 2nd set heading to a routine straight sets victory, but Stepanek broke back and even had a half of chance to think about leveling at one sets apiece at 4:3* (30/15). Ferrer forced himself to bigger mental effort, and once again won five games in a row. He was serving at 5:2 (30/15) in the 3rd when Stepanek trying everything, complicated the things a bit and got ‘deuce’ when the Spaniard was serving to win the match for the second time… They played also in the Davis Cup final three years ago, and Ferrer came back then from a 0-2 deficit to give the Spanish team a comfortable two-point cushion before Saturday.
The 100th Davis Cup final created a unique opportunity to reunite Czech players who won the trophy for Czechoslovakia in 1980, in a final against Italy which was held in Prague as well:Pavel Slozil(25 y.o. at the time),Ivan Lendl(20, remarkable that year winning all singles and doubles rubbers),Tomas Smid(24) andJan Kodes(34). “Winning the Davis Cup is special,” said Ivan Lendl. “I have good memories – it’s one of the highlights of my career, winning together with the boys.”“I think the format of Davis Cup is good,” said Kodes. “Because it’s very important for national associations otherwise they would never see the players play at home.” Slozil referring to the ‘Iron Curtain’: “I only say that any win for your country [in] those days was very important because only a few people could really travel to the western world. It was very important to be on a tennis team, a Davis Cup team, a Fed Cup team, to be able to travel to the west.”
Due to Nadal’s sabbatical, the Czechs as hosts could be perceived as favorites a month ago, but the things change quickly: Ferrer has been lately exposing the best indoor form of his life, grabbing titles in Valencia and Paris whilst Spanish duo (M.Lopez & Granollers) unexpectedly won ‘Masters’ doubles which undoubtedly boosted their self-confidence prior to the last main-level event of 2012.