Stepanek shoots down Spain in Davis Cup final

With tie level, veteran outguns Almagro to seal first Czech victory in 32 years

Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic returns a ball to Spanish tennis player Nicolás Almagro.
Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic returns a ball to Spanish tennis player Nicolás Almagro.MICHAL CIZEK (AFP)

It was never going to be easy for Spain’s Davis Cup team to check out of its Prague hotel with the trophy for the sixth time in 12 years. The home side selected the most unsuitable court it could muster to outfox the Iberian nation’s red dirt-lovers, intending to lean on the thunderous serve and ground strokes of Tomas Berdych in the singles rubbers and the wiles of Radek Stepanek around the cord against the visitors’ doubles team.

The plan half-succeeded. Stepanek, as was largely predicted, was swatted aside by the hyperactive David Ferrer, who capped his finest season to date with the scalp of both the world number 37 and Berdych, ranked six. That gave Spain two points in the tie but the Czechs matched them blow-for-blow. Berdych emerged victorious from his singles rubber against Nicolás Almagro late on Friday and, in a most blatant piece of subterfuge by the home side, took to the court on Saturday alongside Stepanek to contest the doubles. Czech team captain Jaroslav Navratil had attempted to fool counterpart Àlex Corretja by initially naming Lukas Rosol and Ivo Minar instead.

Despite the Spain team of Marc López and Marcel Granollers’ recent ATP Tour Finals success, the Czech pair won a scintillating tie. The toll told on Berdych, though, as he slumped to a straight-sets defeat to Ferrer on Sunday, setting up a decisive clash between Stepanek and Almagro, which the Czech won 3-1 to seal the first title for the Czech Republic since the 1980 victory of Czechoslovakia.

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