|Posted on September 18, 2009 at 4:36 PM|
CROATIA 0 CZECH REPUBLIC 1
Sportska dvorana, Porec (clay - indoors)
Radek Stepanek saved four match points as he withstood a record 78 aces from 6'10'' Ivo Karlovic to defeat the Croatian 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(6), 6-7(2), 16-14 and give the Czech Republic a 1-0 lead after an epic Davis Cup semi-final encounter in Porec Friday.
Breaks were exchanged early in the first set, but following that there were to be no more breaks of serve until the fifth set. After saving three match points in the 10th game and another one in the 24th game of the deciding set, World No. 17 Stepanek broke the famed Karlovic serve at 14-14 before serving out a dramatic victory. At five hours and 59 minutes, it was just one minute shy of becoming only the fourth Davis Cup rubber to last more than six hours.
The total number of games (82) equalled the highest number of games in a Davis Cup rubber since the introduction of the tie-break. It was just three short of the overall record for a World Group tie.
“I am very happy that I was able to pull it through,” said a jubilant Stepanek, on court after the match. “The match was going crazy; we were not able to break each other. I was the one who was using more fitness. He had four match points in the fifth set but I stayed mentally strong and it paid off at the end. You can’t live through bigger emotions than Davis Cup and this match just proved it.”
The No. 31-ranked Karlovic’s staggering ace count is a new record, breaking his own previous record of 55 aces that he struck in a first-round defeat to Lleyton Hewitt at Roland Garros. The 30 year old dropped to a 6-6 record in Davis Cup singles play; he had won his past three matches – including a five-set win over James Blake in Croatia’s quarter-final clash with the United States.
Stepanek has now won seven of his past nine Davis Cup singles matches and improved his record to 7-6. The Czech Republic is bidding to reach the final for the first time since lifting the trophy in 1980 (d. Italy). The visiting nation has been a consistent performer in Davis Cup competition and, along with the United States and Sweden, is one of just three countries to have appeared in the World Group in all but one year.
Croatia’s Marin Cilicwill now look to level the tie for the host nation as he faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the second rubber.