Czechs seek to defy underdog status in Davis Cup final

Tomáš Berdych, foto: ČTK

The biggest sporting event for the Czech Republic this years starts on Friday when the country’s men’s tennis team takes on Spain in the final of the Davis Cup. The Czech team go into the three-day, five match encounter in Barcelona as underdogs but they have confounded that label before.

Tomáš Berdych, photo: CTK
It would probably have seemed an unlikely dream nine months ago when the tournament started that the Czech Republic would qualify for the first time for the Davis Cup final. They won as Czechoslovakia back in 1980.

The Czech team starring Radek Štěpánek and Tomáš Berdych have got there the hard way beating France, Argentina and Croatia to get within grasp of the famous salad bowl trophy.

In an interview for the official Davis Cup website, Štěpánek says stepping out on the court for the finals will be one of the biggest moments of his already long career.

“I believe, you know, every match is important in your career but there are some special moments. And this one is going to be definitely the most special moment to play the Davis Cup finals because you never know if we will have another chance. And we will give everything we have and maybe even things that we do not have to bring the trophy back to the Czech Republic.”

Radek Štěpánek, photo: CTK
Beating the current Davis Cup champions, Spain, who will be playing on their favoured clay in front of a fanatical home crowd will require a famous upset.

But the Spanish preparations have perhaps cast a few shadows over their camp. Their top star, world number two Rafael Nadal, had a miserable run at the end of season ATP World Tour tournament in London losing all his matches in straight sets. That performance was matched by Fernando Verdasco who has also picked up an injury. He has been dropped for the singles matches in preference to David Ferrer.

On paper, Czech team captain Jaroslav Navrátil has chosen Lukáš Dlouhý and Jan Hájek for Saturday’s doubles against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Verdasco. But he can be expected to swap that for the established doubles partnership of Štěpánek and Berdych.

Navrátil sees the doubles clash as the likely key to the whole encounter given that an even off-colour Nadal is still a good bet for two Spanish points.

Lukáš Dlouhý, photo: CTK
“I think certainly that could be the decisive moment. Of course it is difficult to talk about that now even before the first day. I would like the first day to end successfully for us: that is with the score at least at one point apiece. Then the key could be that decisive point.”

Thursday’s draw means that Tomáš Berdych takes the court for the first match on Friday against Nadal with Štěpánek following up against Ferrer. The reverse singles are played Sunday with the doubles in between.