Berdych stars as Czechs progress

Two years ago, when these two countries last met, in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal in Belgrade, much was expected of the Czech No. 1 Tomas Berdych. In the event he wasn’t quite able to deliver. At the 02 Arena in Prague on Sunday he had his revenge, steering Czech Republic through to another semifinal by virtue of contributing all three points to his country’s cause.

Losing to Novak Djokovic – from a winning position – was bad enough two years ago, but it was his defeat to the Serbian No. 2 Janko Tipsarevic that must have rankled more with him, given the 30-place discrepancy in their rankings at the time.
By rights it shouldn’t have been any easier this time following Tipsarevic’s recent rise to No. 8 in the world, but with ranking comes added pressure and responsibility as the Serbian discovered to his cost. Not that he is of faint heart.
In fact, there wasn’t much to choose between the No. 7 and No. 8 in the world, as one might expect, but Berdych – a great Davis Cup combatant – was just about deserving of his 76(6) 76(6) 76(7) victory that gave Czech Republic an unassailable 3-1 lead. Berdych put the win down to his greater experience.

Resilience, or more like bravery, was another word for it as he had to come from behind in not only two of the three sets but in all three tiebreaks, too. That bravery was never more apparent than in the third set when after saving two set points and a further three in the tiebreak he came courageously to the net on the second of his own match points to play a backhand volley on the stretch that forced Tipsarevic into error.

Whereupon he collapsed flat on his back, his 6ft 5in frame spread-eagled, seemingly filling half of the court before his teammates brought him upright. It was a time for rejoicing. Thoughts of how Czech Republic will deal with Argentina away from home are quite properly left for another day. One thing is sure: they must wish they could ferry their raucous 12,000-strong support all the way to Buenos Aires.

As much as he loves playing to the crowd, the 33-year-old Radek Stepanek must have been relieved, on this occasion, he wasn’t asked to win a tie for the Czechs in a fifth and final rubber after playing seven and a half hours of tennis in the space of two days. Viktor Troicki, privately, may have been slightly relieved, too, because in the form he was in few would have fancied his chances of beating the artful Stepanek, weary or not. In the event poor Troicki even lost the dead rubber, 76(5) 75 to Lukas Rosol, a player ranked 55 places beneath him.

It was nip and tuck throughout this clash of the Top 10 titans – small wonder that the head-to-head score stood at 4-4. No sooner had one man managed to force a break than the other broke straight back. Even the three tiebreaks were a close run thing. Berdych’s backhand was in particularly fine working order so it came as something of a surprise when it betrayed him in the eighth game of the first set to give Tipsarevic a 5-3 lead.

However, Berdych broke straight back. Tipsarevic received treatment after losing the nail on the big toe of the right foot, but typcially declined to use that as an excuse. Twice more in the tiebreak Tipsarevic stole an advantage only to have it snatched straight out of his hands before the Czech finally got his nose in front when it mattered most.
In the second set it was the turn of Berdych to set the pace only to twice find himself pulled back level as Tipsarevic demonstrated his own ability to dig deep. For the most part both men went bravely for the lines, but on the 14th point of the tiebreak, immediately after he had twice slightly overcooked backhand returns, Tipsarevic uncharacteristically played a cautious backhand up the middle and short and paid the price.

Further recrimination from the Serbian will have followed towards the climax of the third set when he twice threw away set points, the second with a horrible backhand return that flew well wide.

Two booming aces later from Berdych and the two men found themselves locked in yet another tiebreak. Again Tipsarevic was the first to draw blood and when a double mini-break handed him three more set points it seemed this match would entertain the crowd for still longer. Berdych, however, had other ideas.

While Tipsarevic didn’t think the quality of tennis was great he did accept it probably made for great entertainment. It did. He also graciously conceded that he had lost to the better man – “a great sportsman”, he said, which sounded distinctly like a pointed reference to someone else in the Czech team.