Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych handed the Czech Republic a 2-0 lead over Argentina in their Davis Cup semi-final on Friday, bringing the reigning champions to within a point of the final.
Stepanek, the world No. 61 and Czech No. 2, saw off 30th-ranked Argentine No. 1 Juan Monaco 7-6 (7/3), 6-3, 6-2 in two hours and 33 minutes in the opening rubber.
Fifth-ranked Berdych then beat world No. 93 Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and one minute. On the superfast acrylic hardcourt of Prague’s O2 Arena, where the Czechs lifted the trophy last year after beating Spain 3-2, a dominant Stepanek capitalized on his aggressive style and an improving serve against Monaco.
“I tried to be active all the time, I was on the defensive for a while, then I attacked, took a few risks, so I played what we had set as the tactics,” Stepanek said.
“I’m happy with my performance,” added the 34-year-old after earning his fifth win from seven games against Monaco.
Monaco admitted Stepanek was the better man on the court.
“He played so much better than me. I had my chances in the first set, but couldn’t make it and somehow he figured it out to play better, with more confidence, and the match became difficult for me,” he said.
“In the final set I thought I’m going to come back, but he played really well,” Monaco said. “He impressed me a little bit, I knew that he’s a good player on this kind of court, but he played really well today.”
In their first-ever encounter, Berdych and Mayer were tied after two evenly matched sets.
However, Berdych then produced some more precise play and took early breaks in both of the next two sets, never offering Mayer a way back into the rubber.
Argentina are missing their top star Juan Martin del Potro, who is taking a break from the competition this year, as well as the injured David Nalbandian.
Last year’s Davis Cup triumph was the first for the Czechs since Czechoslovakia, which peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, won the trophy in 1980.
Argentina, who have played three finals in the last seven years, are still seeking their first Davis Cup trophy.