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DAVIS CUP FINAL

Ferrer to open Davis Cup assault

World number five will play Stepanek; Almagro to face Berdych in game two

Radek Stepanek (left) and David Ferrer pose in front of the Davis Cup trophy ahead of the final.
Radek Stepanek (left) and David Ferrer pose in front of the Davis Cup trophy ahead of the final. MICHAL CIZEK (AFP)

Hours before the Davis Cup final begins on Friday in the 14,000-seat O2 Arena in Prague, the team captains announced their selections to contest the singles and doubles rubbers. There were few surprises in the Spain team; Feliciano López, the hero of Mar del Plata, remains as fifth man with David Ferrer and Nicolás Almagro selected by Àlex Corretja for the singles, and ATP World Tour Finals champions Marc López and Marcel Granollers chosen for the doubles match.

Corretja's opposite number, Jaroslav Navratil, sprang one eyebrow-raiser when he named Ivo Minar and Lukas Rosol as his doubles selection: "Even they don't believe that," scoffed the Spanish players. In all likelihood Saturday's match will be contested by Tomas Berdych, the world number six, and Radek Stepanek, ranked four in doubles. Rosol is destined to become a Trivial Pursuits question in years to come after dumping Rafa Nadal out of Wimbledon this year, but is ranked about where he should be, at 73. Minar is ranked 186. In doubles, they rank 113 and 868 respectively. López and Granollers are both in the top 10 in the team format.

Opening the tie will be Ferrer and Stepanek — a baseline battler versus a wily operator at the cord. In the 2009 final between the two sides on clay in Barcelona, the match between the two was the pick of the tie. After winning just three games in the first two sets, Ferrer clawed his way back into the match and won the final set 8-6. That put Spain two up and Feliciano López and Fernando Verdasco finished the job on the Saturday, defeating Berdych and Stepanek, who curiously held then exactly the same ranking they do now, 6 and 37 respectively. Nadal and Ferrer completed a 5-0 whitewash on the final day against Jan Hajek and Lukas Dlouhy.

It is unlikely the result will be the same in Prague. The surface selected by the Czechs is about as fast as they come, which will suit Berdych's thunderous serve and heavy ground strokes. Almagro will square off against the 6' 5" Czech in the second rubber on Friday.

If the tie goes to a third and decisive day, the singles matches will be reversed, although team captains can switch their players around for the final day, as long as no matches from day one are repeated, leaving the door open for López to have a swing.

Corretja, a member of the 2000 team that won Spain's first Davis Cup against Australia in Barcelona, could not contain his glee at the opening match-ups: "It is a very good draw, because if David beats Stepanek, Berdych will be under a lot of pressure, and those circumstances don't suit him," Spain's technical staff noted.

"If I could have chosen myself, I would have picked this order. David has played more finals, he has more experience," said Corretja. "We have won five times in the past 12 years, so we don't need to prove we can win away from home. We looked back on Mar del Plata and said, 'We've done it once, why can't we do it again?' I've asked the players to leave their heart and soul on the court, but also to play with their heads. Our opponents are very good but they haven't won in 30 years and it remains to be seen how they react to that."

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