|Posted on March 4, 2010 at 8:17 AM|
04 Mar 2010 - Bree, Belgium - BEL v CZE
Rochus and Berdych face off in Bree
Olivier Rochus will take on Tomas Berdych in the opening rubber of Belgium's World Group first round tie against the 2009 runners-up Czech Republic in Bree. Xavier Malisse, who has been ranked as high as No. 19, will take on Czech No. 1 Radek Stepanek in Friday's second rubber. Both Rochus and Malisse have fallen down the rankings in recent years after battling injuries.
Czech Republic lead Belgium 7-3 in head-to-head meetings with the visitors winning the nation's last encounter in the 2008 first round.
Czech team at the draw ceremony on Thursday, 4 March 2010
So if everyone is healthy, and if both captains stick with their nominations, the three days will break down as follows:
Olivier Rochus (BEL) v Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Xavier Malisse (BEL) v Radek Stepanek (CZE)
Steve Darcis/Olivier Rochus (BEL) v Lukas Dlouhy/Jan Hajek (CZE)
Olivier Rochus (BEL) v Radek Stepanek (CZE)
Xavier Malisse (BEL) v Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Radek Stepanek, Tomas Berdych, Jan Hajek at the draw ceremony
The chances of seeing Dlouhy and Hajek play doubles for Czech Republic on Saturday are slim to none. Even their captain admitted that should both his top players be fit for the doubles, “they will be the ones on court Saturday”. As for the reverse singles, it should be Stepanek and Olivier Rochus followed by Malisse and Berdych, but again nothing is engraved and Christophe Rochus could pop out of the box for a fifth and decisive rubber Sunday afternoon.
Belgians must rely on home court advantage
Belgium’s best Davis Cup performance, to this day, is 106 year’s old. In 1904 the Belgian squad spearheaded by William Le Maire De Warzee and Paul De Borman finished runner-up in the final. The nation’s opponent this weekend, Czech Republic, was also a finalist once upon a time - in fact last year - so the outcome of this weekend’s tie at the Bree Expodrome in eastern Belgium is already decided, right? And everyone already knows which nation will be celebrating on Sunday night, yes?
The beauty of Davis Cup is its innate ability to deliver regular David over Goliath moments. Pete Sampras won’t argue with that. Try as he may to forget, the American living legend surely remembers his defeat to France’s Henri Leconte in the 1991 Davis Cup Final in Lyon. Ranked 159th and the undisputable underdog, Leconte was empowered by his captain, his team, a packed stadium, an entire nation. On 29 November 1991, “Riton,” as he was nicknamed, simply outplayed the No. 6 in the world. Had it been a week before or after, Sampras would have probably eaten the Frenchman for breakfast. But not, as it turned out, in Davis Cup reality.
To re-live this memorable weekend here in Bree, Christophe Rochus and Olivier Rochus, Xavier Malisse and Steve Darcis will need to overthrow the toughest two-man squad since the 2005 Ancic/Ljubicic duo : Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych. Lukas Dlouhy, the doubles world No. 5 and Jan Hajek complete the squad skippered by Jaroslav Navratil.
Despite the inclusion of doubles specialist Dlouhy, the Czech captain will most often select his star players Stepanek and Berdych for both singles and doubles, unless either is injured. This choice saw the Czech Republic to the Davis Cup Final last December in Barcelona, where Nadal & Co ultimately captured the trophy. Still, Navratil and his men did their country proud by carrying out the most successful tennis campaign since Czechoslovakia’s 1980 victory.
So what do the Belgians have to do this weekend? How can a team led by the 59th ranked player in the world (Olivier Rochus) overcome one that stands at No. 4 in the Davis Cup Nation Rankings? First and foremost, Belgium is at home. This means they are playing on a surface they chose and on which they feel comfortable and competitive. It also means that the 3,500 fans will be cheering every Belgian fist pump and booing every Czech “faux pas.” Olivier Rochus’ solid form - evidenced by his quarterfinal appearance in Marseille just two weeks ago, which included a win over France’s Gilles Simon - will be a threat to Stepanek and Berdych, neither famous for their clay court results.
Coached by Belgian captain Reginald Willems, “Olli” could also potentially treat the crowd to some of the inspiring doubles feats he displayed on clay back in 2004 in the Roland Garros final alongside Xavier Malisse, even though this weekend he is nominated to play with Steve Darcis.
Tomas at the draw ceremony on Thursday, 4 March 2010
Tomas Berdych and Olivier Rochus play the opening singles rubber on Friday
Tomas Berdych and Olivier Rochus are level at 2-2 in the head-to-head entering into their singles rubber Friday afternoon. The players have split two meetings on clay, including a 2007 clash at the World Team Championship. Berdych posted a comprehensive victory, downing Rochus 6-3, 6-0 in round robin competition.
Berdych holds a 21-9 record in Davis Cup. The 24-year-old, who made his debut in 2003 against Thailand, returns after his nation suffered a 0-5 finals rout in Spain last December. Berdych, currently ranked 25th, is 8-5 in 2010, having advanced to the quarterfinal or better in three of 5 tournaments.
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