Stepanek lifts Czech Republic to Davis Cup title
By Sports Network
|Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek (bottom) and Tomas Berdych play with the trophy after winning the Davis Cup tennis tournament final match over Spain in Prague November 18, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny
PRAGUE - Radek Stepanek upended Nicolas Almagro in Sunday's fifth and deciding singles rubber, as the host Czech Republic beat defending champion Spain, 3-2, to capture the 2012 Davis Cup title.
The world No. 37 Stepanek outdueled the 11th-ranked Almagro 6-4, 7-6 (7-0), 3-6, 6-3 in the Day-3 nightcap at Prague's O2 Arena, where bedlam ensued when Stepanek converted on a second championship point in the landmark 100th Davis Cup final.
"I've been dreaming of this my whole life," Stepanek said. "We've written history today here in our country."
The Czechs last won the Davis Cup title in 1980, led by the legendary Ivan Lendl, who was in attendance on Sunday. That title 32 years ago came for the former Czechoslovakia, which split in 1993.
Czech women captured a second straight Fed Cup title at O2 Arena just two weeks ago.
Earlier Sunday, Spanish star David Ferrer beat Tomas Berdych in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, 7-5, to force the dramatic deciding rubber.
The heroic Stepanek would not be denied on Sunday, as he became the first man in 100 years over the age of 30 to win a fifth and deciding rubber in a Davis Cup finale. He'll turn 34 next week.
Stepanek squeaked out the opening set only to fall behind 2-4 in the second, as Almagro appeared to be getting his teeth into the match.
But Stepanek, down a break in the second, got the break back en route to forcing a second-set tiebreak, which he dominated for a surprising two-sets- to-love lead.
Almagro then dominated the third set and appeared to be staging a comeback, but a serve-and-volleying Stepanek fought right back to dominate the fourth.
In the fourth set, Stepanek broke for a 2-0 lead and never looked back. Almagro saved a match point with a clean backhand volley while trailing 2-5, 30-40, but his Czech counterpart converted on a second one two games later when Almagro netted a final backhand, which prompted a wild celebration for 14,500 fans inside the O2 after almost four hours of tennis.
The hard-luck loser Almagro popped 15 aces, but also coughed up six double faults.
Stepanek improved to 3-3 in his career fifth and deciding Davis Cup rubbers. And he's now 3-1 lifetime against Almagro, who topped the Czech veteran in the opening round at the U.S. Open this year.
The gritty Stepanek improved to 12-11 in his career Davis Cup singles matches, including 10-10 indoors, while Almagro fell to 8-4 in the prestigious international team event.
Almagro lost to Berdych in five sets on Friday, while Stepanek gave way to Ferrer in straight sets on Day 1 before teaming with Berdych to give the Czechs a 2-1 lead on Saturday.
The Czechs entered Day 3 with a chance to clinch in the first reverse singles match, but the world No. 5 Ferrer flattened a flat sixth-ranked Berdych to level the best-of-five tie at 2-2. Ferrer piled up five service breaks, compared to only one for the loser Berdych.
The former Wimbledon runner-up Berdych may have been tired after winning a long five-set singles affair on Friday and a four-set doubles encounter alongside Stepanek on Saturday.
The 5-foot-9 Ferrer improved to 6-3 lifetime against the 6-foot-5 Berdych, as the two men met for the first and only time in 2012.
The fiery 30-year-old Ferrer improved to 23-4 in his career Davis Cup matches, including 12-4 indoors.
Ferrer led the ATP World Tour with seven titles this year.
Berdych suffered his first Davis Cup loss of the year, dropping to 10-1, including 6-1 in singles play. He's 22-12 in his career Davis Cup singles bouts.
"I was always few steps behind him," Berdych said of Ferrer. "He was just playing too good today."
Spain played without injured superstar Rafael Nadal, who has been sidelined since June due to knee problems.
The Spaniards were captained by former top-five star Alex Corretja, while the victorious Czechs were guided by Jaroslav Navratil.
Five-time champion Spain had won three of the last four Davis Cup titles, including a 5-0 sweep of the Czech Republic in the '09 finale.
The Czechs are now 3-4 all-time versus the Spaniards in a series that dates back to 1931. Spain and the former Czechoslovakia split four Davis Cup ties.
A road team hasn't won the Davis Cup final since Spain turned the trick four years ago.