|Posted on September 18, 2009 at 4:16 PM|
Stepanek victorious in record breaking match
Memorable tennis matches happen very often in Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. It's just the nature of this incredible competition as players give it their all as they play for their countries and their team mates.
In the northern Croatian city of Porec there was another of those memorable matches and it was one that also created records. In the first rubber of the semi final tie between Ivo Karlovic and Radek Stepanek there was an atmosphere that was beyond belief as the match rested on a knife's edge for every minute of this 5hr 59min marathon.
Midway through the fifth set Karlovic held match points, in total he had five but couldn't convert. The tallest man in tennis had been playing an awesome match of powerhouse tennis as he slammed down ace after ace. In total he hit 78 of them, breaking the Davis Cup record by 31 and the world record by 23.
Stepanek managed to stay the course. His mental strength was phenomenal and kept his cool although the frustration was something else watching bullets whizz past him.
But, somehow, in the 29th game of the final set, he managed to break Karlovic and a game later served out the epic 67 76 76 67 1614. In time, it was the fourth longest match for Davis Cup and the 77 games played made it the longest match in games since the World Group introduced the tiebreak in 1989.
The noise levels started before the first point was even played. The Croats were filing into their seats blowing bugles and banging drums. It took no prizes to guess this was going to be a very noisy afternoon at Zatika Arena, the ten month old venue that has been used for basketball and which was originally built for the world handball championships.
Karlovic was first to inflict trouble when he broke Stepanek in the second game of the match but the Czech paid back the Croat in the next game. However, Karlovic had chances to score another break a game later only to have Stepanek save them. The set was free of break points and they went into the tiebreak which the very tall Croat took control of from the outset.
But his command of the break began to unravel as Stepanek whittled down the set points from four to one. He lost the set when Karlovic forced him into an error.
The second set followed a similar path and if it were possible the noise level seemed to be increasing. Rattles had now been brought into the mix with the bugles and drums but it was a fantastic and colourful setting. It did however seem as though the Czech supporters were out numbering the Croats, for certain their flag was way more prevalent than the local one.
Karlovic twice survived break points on his serve and in the breaker it was Stepanek who took control this time but like Karlovic in the sect before he only won it narrowly with a superb forehand cross court volley.
Once more the third set rolled on without a service break as the crowd support was evenly distributed. If one closed their eyes and tried to distinguish who had won a point by the cheers from the crowd it would have been pretty difficult. Normally the decibels from home crowds would compare to Concord on takeoff, but not here because they were being matched vocal cord for vocal cord.
Karlovic had the tiebreak on his racket string. He had 3-0 with a double mini-break and then had 4-1 but that wily Stepanek played some great points to win five of six points and then closed it 8-6 when Karlovic ran around his backhand and sent the forehand into the net.
The final set was a battle royale. How the two of them kept the pace up was a credit to their fitness. Neither was prepared to give an inch. The games were just ticking away and not a stoke slackened from either of them. The atmosphere levels were rising with every point and with every ball that was hit.
Stepanek just kept a level head with his shorts and the pressure of trying to stay ahead played on Karlovic and the Czech took his chance with the break. He served for the match but that didn't seem like a foregone conclusion as Karlovic put the pressure on. However, Stepanek kept on returning and Karlovic over-hit the ball on match point three to surrender the epic and give Czech Republic the first point of the tie.
The second rubber of the day sees Marin Cilic play Tomas Berdych.