Berdych and Stepanek down Spanish pair to close in on Davis Cup glory
18:08 GMT, 17 November 2012
London's O2 Arena will have seemed a long way off from its Czech counterpart for Spanish duo Marc Granollers and Marc Lopez as they slid to a Davis Cup final defeat, just six days after the high of winning under the Millenium Dome.
The champions of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals were downed by host nation’s Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek in a feverish atmosphere to put the Czech Republic within one victory of winning the 100th edition of the sport’s premier team competition.
In the pivotal doubles rubber it was again shown that there is no substitute for sheer ability and big match experience, whatever the format, as the two better known players prevailed 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3, in three hours and 19 minutes.
Czech mates: Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek beat Spain in the doubles
It was an impressive effort from Berdych, who finished his singles match not long before midnight on Friday, barely fourteen hours before resuming with the partner alongside whom he now has a 12-1 record in doubles in the team event.
Sunday will require one last slog from the Czech No 1 as he takes on his opposite number David Ferrer, who never gives an inch.
Assuming he still has enough puff left, 34 year-old Stepanek is slated to play the decisive singles against Nicolas Almagro if Berdych cannot finish off the job.
On the basis of what we saw on Friday, when the Spaniards played above themselves and looked comfortable with the pace of the court, the home side are still a long way off from emulating the old Czechoslovakia team of 1980 that won this title.
If they did manage to cross the finishing line then what is beyond doubt is that it would spark off delirious celebrations as the last two days have provided more proof that team competition stirs emotions in a way that the individual format struggles to match.
No answer: Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez were bought back down to Earth
Without the luxury of a specialist doubles team to give them a day's rest, Berdych and Stepanek were slow off the mark against the Spanish pair, whose confidence gleaned from London appeared to have carried over.
It did not help that Stepanek, whose serve was vulnerable on Friday, dropped his in the second game to give the visitors the perfect start.
Only in the second set set did the Czechs begin to look more co-ordinated, and they were eventually able to prey upon what emerged as two key weaknesses in the opposition – the reflex volleying of Granollers at the net and the serving of Lopez, whose profile before this year has been connected to his friendship and sometime partnership with Rafael Nadal.
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Pure delight: The win sent the patriotic crowd into rapture
In the fourth the crucial break came for 4-2, and although Berdych looked edgy as he tried to serve the match out at 5-3 they summoned up enough composure to seal the win without ever looking completely convincing.
After a mediocre display on Friday Stepanek grew into the match, and will feel better about himself if he has to come out to play what would be a nerve-shredding deciding rubber against Alamgro, the talented baseliner who is nonetheless at his least comfortable when playing indoors.
Ferrer looked extremely accomplished in his opening match, and Berdych will need to be at his best to try and hit through him on a court designed to enable him to do just that.
So the Spanish may have more energy for the task, but as their Captain Alex Corretja succinctly put it: 'We would still rather be tired and 2-1 up.'