|Posted on July 12, 2009 at 3:28 PM|
From official Davis Cup site
Stepanek clinches decider for Czechs
However dubious a prize it may be - an away draw to the powerful Croatian team in the semifinals - it was one well deserved by the Czech Republic who had to go the full distance in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Quarterfinal to see off the challenge of Argentina, last year's runners-up.
It had been building up to a tremendous climax, but in the end the 30-year-old Radek Stepanek proved too experienced and just plain too good for Argentina's Juan Monaco in the fifth and final rubber, winning 76 63 62 to put the Czech Republic into the semifinals for the first time since 1996.
Stepanek fights through knee pain
It mattered not to the home crowd that there was no gripping finale nor to Stepanek, who as far as Czech crowds are concerned has always been a crowd pleaser; here he served up one of his finest Davis Cup performances.
When Monaco put a backhand volley wide on match point, Stepanek collapsed in a heap and then, while seated, grabbed hold of an imaginary steering wheel: there had never been much doubt who was in the driving seat, although apparently there had been the night before when Stepanek's knee condition was giving serious cause for concern.
"It was the biggest effort I have ever done in Davis Cup," said Stepanek. "I had to really dig deep to step on the court. After the doubles [on Saturday] I was like 90 per cent sure that I'm not able to play singles, but I was assured by the doctors that it was not going to damage my knee. I had to lie to myself that it didn't hurt."
Vazquez questions injury; Czechs eye the final
Argentina had hoped that Monaco's steady game would wear down Stepanek, who had been rested from the opening day's singles in order to save him for just this eventuality. In the event, there was never any sign of reduced mobility in his game and Tito Vazquez, the Argentina captain, seriously doubted whether his knee was an issue.
"We knew that Stepanek was going to be in good shape," said Vazquez, "and it proved he was not injured at all. You cannot run a lot [when you are] and he had the game that would bother a player like Monaco."
Argentine hopes soared when Monaco broke Stepanek, courtesy of a third double fault, to go 5-4 up in the first set, but Stepanek never wavered from his attacking game and broke straight back to love. He was never in trouble again. He broke Monaco twice in the second set and twice more in the third.
"We're excited to be in the semifinals but we are not satisfied yet," said Stepanek. "We want to go further and play in the final."
If Argentina must wish David Nalbandian had been fit, the Czech Republic must wish they could be facing the Croatians at home, preferably here in Ostrava's CEZ Arena on a pacey court. This was their fourth consecutive home win. The general consensus among the team was that the Croatians will choose to play on clay, as they did in beating the United States.
Del Potro Argentina's glimmer of hope
Juan Martin del Potro had given Argentina hope that this could finally be their year when he beat his opposing No. 1 Tomas Berdych, of the Czech Republic, with alarming ease 64 64 64 to square the tie earlier in the day. If the Argentina camp was dissatisfied with the Taraflex surface here, it certainly wasn't evident from the performances of the world No. 5, who was registering his second straight-sets win of the tie.
Berdych had taken heart from the fact that nine months ago he had beaten del Potro in straight sets on a similarly quick surface in the final of the Japan Open in Tokyo at a time when the Argentine was on that extraordinary run of one defeat in 30 matches.
However, Berdych's game had not been at its best here, particularly his serve as he was reminded in the opening game when he was broken to love. Del Potro's huge forehand came more to the fore in the second and third sets and Berdych, although he attempted the occasional drop shot, was unable to break up the rhythm of his opponent's relentless game.