Stepanek the home hero in historic Czech triumph
PRAGUE, Nov 19: Veteran Radek Stepanek sparked tennis history for the Czech Republic as clinched a 3-2 weekend victory over five-time champions Spain with a picture-perfect deciding rubber win against Nicolas Almagro on Sunday.
The 33-year-old became the first over-30 in just over a century (1912) to win a deciding fifth rubber as he played in the 100th Davis Cup final.
His 6-4, 7-6 (7-0), 3-6, 6-3 win took nearly four hours of steely nerves and precise shot-making in front of 13,500 mainly home fans.
The joyous win made up for a loss to Spain in the 2009 final. Czechoslovakia won the Davis Cup 30 years ago with members of that team including Ivan Lendl watching all weekend from the stands.
The victory marked a tennis doubles for the Czechs, whose women’s side won the Fed Cup at the same O2 arena a fortnight ago.
The final day of play went down to the Stepanek-Almagro battle after David Ferrer had kept Spain in the tie as he beat Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 to knot the weekend at 2-2.
Stepanek secured the victory on his second match point as Almagro fired a backhand into the net and end a run for the Spanish dynasty which had won four of the last five editions of the worldwide team competition and had claimed five titles since 2000.
Stepanek dropped to the court in disbelief before team-mates Berdych, Lukas Rosol, Ivo Minar and captain Jaroslav Navratil jumped on him.
“Radek played his best tennis for us to win, this is an amazing win,” said Navratil as his overjoyed players and other team and staff members joined hands and led all four sides of the cheering stadium in more chants.
“I’ve dreamed of this my whole life,” said Stepanek, “We are standing here as Davis Cup champions. It’s amazing, we’ve written history today in our small country. I cannot describe what I’m feeling now.”
The Czech hero won the first set and came back from a break in the second to sweep the tiebreak 7-0. Almagro rallied to claim the third with one break.
But it was a Stepanek show in the fourth set as the veteran broke for 2-0 but did not panic when Almagro saved a match point in the eighth game to hang in for 3-5. A game later the celebrations began as Stepanek closed out the weekend.—Agencies