Not even a five-hour singles marathon the previous day for Radek Stepanek could diminish the power of the Czech Republic doubles team. There is no stopping the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas veteran and his young sidekick Tomas Berdych once in harness, and they pulled off their 10th victory in 11 rubbers to put the home team firmly in control of this quarterfinal at the O2 Arena in Prague.
Serbia trailed 2-1 to the same opposition in the semifinal two years ago before coming back to win, but on that occasion they had the services of Novak Djokovic, then the would-be world No.1, to call upon. Unless there is another Harry Houdini lurking in their midst it’s difficult to see how Serbia can extricate themselves from this one.
The 6-4 6-2 7-6(4) win by Stepanek and Berdych against the less familiar Serbian pairing of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac confirmed Czech Republic’s pre-match position as favourites to face either Argentina or Croatia in another semi-final. It certainly set things up beautifully for what could prove to be a decisive fourth rubber on Sunday, a fascinating face-off between the world No.7 Berdych and the world No.8 Tipsarevic.
The Czechs could afford to lose that and still be favourites to win the tie in the final rubber – assuming Stepanek’s 33-year-old legs can carry him that far. With the Serbian Viktor Troicki struggling desperately for his form here, few would bet against the crafty Czech enjoying another lap of honour. Two years ago in Belgrade he beat Troicki very easily and the Serb was playing better then.
Stepanek returned to his country’s capital this week as the proud new owner of both Grand Slam and Masters titles after winning the doubles events in Melbourne and Miami, respectively, on each occasion in tandem with the Indian Leander Paes. To say that it has put a swagger in his step would be over-stating things since he has always had a jaunty step, particularly when he is winning points.
According to his captain, Jaroslav Navratil, he had only four hours sleep after his exciting but contentious match against Tipsarevic the night before – he was still being questioned after today’s doubles about his “handshake” with the Serbian at the end of the match which caused such a furore.
However, he paced himself well alongside Berdych and together they won the first two sets with minimal difficulty. The Serbs had their chances in the second set, but they failed to convert any of four break points while Czech Republic converted both theirs.
At the start of the third set the Serbs began to get their act together and stormed into a 2-0 lead and then, after fending off five break points, a 3-0 lead. But no-one was ever convinced it could be a turning point and the Czechs steadily pegged them back to take the set to a tiebreak, in which they kept the upper hand throughout.