Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek have given Czech Republic an unassailable 3-0 lead over Romania in this weekend’s Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off. Although they dropped the first set of Saturday’s doubles rubber against Horia Tecau and Marius Copil, the powerhouse duo were imperious in the end, 36 63 60 62.
After the drama of late Friday afternoon, when Berdych had to overcome both leg cramps and Victor Crivoi, the hosts gave local fans something to cheer in the opening set. Tecau, ranked No. 13 in doubles, sent a message by winning his first service game to love; three games later the Romanians drew first blood by breaking Berdych for 3-1. Twenty-year-old Copil fought off a break point to hold for 5-2, and after a Czech hold, Tecau sealed the opener with an ace.
But Berdych and Stepanek are clearly much better than their respective doubles rankings of No. 105 and No. 96 would suggest; what’s more, they went into this rubber with impressive Davis Cup doubles records of 11-1 and 9-2 (8-1 together). And once they had broken Tecau for 4-2 in the second their class really began to tell.
Berdych needed to save two break points for 5-2, but when he duly crossed for a put-away volley to end the second set, it was the start of a nine-game streak that saw the Czech’s up two sets to one and a break at 2-0 in the fourth.
Although Tecau and Copil have produced Davis Cup heroics before – in the first round of 2009 they recovered from two sets down to upset Russians Marat Safin and Dmitry Tursunov – a reprise was not to be. The Romanians got on the scoreboard by holding two service games, but they were making too many unforced errors - three times as many across the match, in fact. The Czechs broke to love for 5-2 and Stepanek secured his side’s place in next year’s World Group competition with an ace.
“From my side, the start was not optimum, but we are on court as a team and Radek helped me a lot,” said Berdych, who turned 26 today and showed no sign of Friday’s physical problems. “We waited for our chances and they came in the middle of the second set. I think the Romanian guys started really well but they didn’t have another level to step up. It turned completely.”
Happy with the win, Stepanek indicated that Sunday’s reverse singles would now be played by Jan Hajek and Lukas Rosol. “Tomas and I will rest our bodies and give them over to medical care, and our teammates can get some experience,” the 32-year-old said.
“We started according to plan, serving well and taking our chances on return,” said Tecau, who aggravated an old calf injury in the course of being broken in the second set. “Then it became a bit uncomfortable to push on my calf, and it took a few games to feel comfortable after I had the treatment. By that time the Czech guys were playing better, without mistakes.”
Czech Republic has protected its record of having only been absent from World Group once since the format was introduced in 1981. The Romanians, meantime, will have to battle once again in Euro/Africa Group I. This is just the second time in six consecutive play-off appearances that they have failed to win through to the World Group.