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Czechs close in on quarterfinal berth

Posted on March 5, 2010 at 3:49 PM

Tomas Berdych enjoys playing Davis Cup

Czechs close in on quarterfinal berth

The Davis Cup by BNP Paribas first round tie between host nation Belgium and Czech Republic is looking better and better if you’re a Czech fan. The star players of last year’s runner-up have once again delivered, giving their country an impressive two-zero lead.

The crowd’s support in Davis Cup events is often crucial and, clearly, the Czechs fans have more experience. Banging on drums and blowing horns, the 50 Czechs in attendance at the Expodroom in Bree made far more noise than the 3450 Belgians. And by doing so, they clearly got under Olivier Rochus’ skin in the opening match against Tomas Berdych.

The Belgian team leader needed four games to get on the scoreboard while Berdych was in his comfort zone from the outset, serving out the first set on set point number one, and beginning the second just as effortlessly by breaking Rochus again.

The younger of the two brothers, Rochus was not able to seize the opportunities he was hoping for before the tie began. The Belgian had six break points in the second game of the second set but was unable to capitalize on them.

The loss of the game pushed Rochus into a mild funk, rendering him seemingly helpless to alter the course of things. A let ball that handed Berdych a 4-0 lead did nothing to help Rochus and the 29-year-old was left with a bagel to chew on. ““I felt pretty good out there, but Tomas played an excellent match, said Rochus. “He’s not number 25 in the world for nothing.”

The beginning of the third set was almost a re-enactment of the first two, with Rochus conceding his serve in the opener and Berdych consolidating. The skill difference between the two players was too stark, and in this particular case, the magic Davis Cup phenomenon - known to narrow gaps between players of different levels - did not occur. Rochus was barely able to capture four games, and the Czech Republic shot up one-zip in a dominating fashion, Berdych winning 63 60 64.

“I played very well today. It’s important to come out on court wanting to control and dominate. This allowed me to get the break in each set and after that, it’s easier to play relaxed,” admitted Berdych.

Radek Stepanek treated the audience to his atypical clay court game in the second rubber against Xavier Malisse, with numerous points converted at the net. At 5-2 in the first set, he just seemed to hit ‘replay’ and effortlessly pocketed the first of three needed sets.

At 1-1 in the second set, Malisse broke Stepanek on an unforced error from the Czech’s backhand, giving Belgium the first ever advantage in any set played on the opening day. This didn’t last long since Malisse was unable to make good on his hard-earned advantages, allowing Stepanek to come right back.

Both players went on to hold serve without having to defend a single break point until 5-4 Stepanek. Down 30-40, Malisse gave the second set to Stepanek following a sloppy sliced backhand in the net, and also allowed the experienced Davis Cup player to begin the third set serving.

Malisse intensified his game in the third set by breaking to 2-1 but found himself unable to consolidate and play was quickly back on serve. But unlike the second set, “Steps” did not hold and was broken at love. When Malisse dropped his serve again, for a cumulative fourth consecutive break, tension peaked in the Expodroom. The first player to break the streak and hold serve would clearly secure the psychological upper hand.

The ace at 40-30 gave Stepanek a 4-3 lead. At four games apiece, the Czech leader defended a break point, but held strong to force a tiebreak, in which Stepanek snatched the match 62 64 76 on his first of three match points.

”I’m very satisfied with my win. I played very solid tennis, and yes, our run to the final last year definitely helped me in the third set tiebreaker” admitted Stepanek.

“I’m disappointed because I had another two sets in me, and once it gets to the fifth set it’s anybody’s game,” regretted Malisse.

The Czech Republic takes a commanding two-zero lead before Saturday’s doubles. At this point, it isn’t quite clear just how the host nation, Belgium, could possibly come back. 

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