|Posted on January 31, 2014 at 3:15 PM|
Robin Haase, who competed for The Netherlands for the first time in 2006, scored a 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1 victory over Czech Radek Stepanek in three hours and 39 minutes. Haase saved 15 break points and hit 14 aces.
With only four places separating Haase and Stepanek in the world rankings, their match was always destined to be a tight affair – but one that the Dutch No. 1 really needed to win to give his country a fighting chance in this encounter.
After a solid start in which each player held his first three service games – Haase doing so for the loss of just one point – it was Stepanek who drew first blood. Mixing up sliced backhands with the occasional foray to the net, he broke the Dutchman’s serve twice in succession to take the opener.
That trend nearly continued at the start of the second set as Stepanek brought up another break point, but Haase pulled out a big serve right on cue. The hold galvanized the Dutchman, who began to wear down his opponent with some punishing groundstrokes.
At 4-4, he was the next man to bring up a break point, which he converted with a passing forehand down the line. Finally, there was something for the 250 Dutch fans in Ostrava to cheer about, and Haase didn’t disappoint them as he served out the set to love.
The pair then exchanged breaks early in the third set before staying on serve for the rest of it, although Haase was the more under pressure and had to save three set points to force the tiebreak.
Stepanek – who rediscovered his deft touch – wasn’t to be denied, however, and sealed the set at the fifth time of asking when the Dutchman sent a forehand long. As the atmosphere inside the packed out CEZ Arena reached new levels, you sensed a home victory might not be too far off.
But Haase had other ideas. He moved 2-0 ahead at the start of the fourth set and then, apparently riled by the noisy Czech fans, let out a roar of relief as he prevented Stepanek from hitting back immediately in the next game.
Another break of serve followed to give him the set, and by now, the momentum had clearly shifted in his favour, with Stepanek appearing increasingly tired. It took Haase only 33 more minutes to wrap up the match, his final act a forehand that buried itself, along with the Czech’s hopes, deep in the back of the court.
“I felt comfortable, because I was playing better and better,” a delighted Haase reflected afterwards. “He had many chances but he didn’t convert almost any break points, so I thought, ‘Well he won’t get as many chances as he probably had already.’ I went with that mindset in the fourth set and it worked out.”
Stepanek, who let 15 out of 18 break point chances pass him by, was left to rue missed opportunities: “The difference was in converting the chances which I created,” he said.
“I created a lot of break chances which I didn’t use. I made silly mistakes at the end of the second set, and same thing at the beginning of the fourth. That was the key.”