Czechs primed for Djokovic
Updated: 2013-09-17 07:26
By Agence France-Presse in Prague (China Daily)
World No 1 will pace Serbia in Davis Cup final in November
The Czech Republic will bet on a time-tested successful team of Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych when it faces Novak Djokovic-led Serbia in the Davis Cup finals on Nov15-17.
The defending champion Czechs won their eighth Davis Cup tie in a row when they swept Argentina in the semifinals in Prague, while 2010 champion Serbia, led by world No 1 Djokovic, eliminated Canada.
The Czech Republic and Serbia last clashed in the 2012 quarterfinals, which the Czechs won 4-1 on their way to the victory.
Two years earlier, Serbia beat the Czechs 3-2 in the semifinals in Belgrade.
Against Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic, the Czechs will pit a duo that has a stunning record since teaming up in 2007.
Berdych, the world No 5, and Stepanek, ranked 61st in singles and fifth in doubles, led the Czechs to their third final in five years on the weekend, having won the 13th of their 14 Davis Cup doubles rubbers together.
Experts praise their faithfulness to the team - unlike others, Berdych and Stepanek typically skip Davis Cup ties only when they are injured.
"Radek and Tomas are a great team, they have been doing great for five years and I hope we will take it to a successful end this year too," Czech team captain Jaroslav Navratil said.
"The away game will definitely be more difficult, we saw this in Belgrade three years ago. But we're not afraid, and experience is on our side," he added.
"The opponents are incredibly strong, but if we focus on ourselves, there is a chance," said Berdych.
Still, Djokovic remains a concern given his record against the Czechs: 14-2 with Berdych, 8-1 with Stepanek.
"It's terribly hard to travel to Serbia with minus two points," said Navratil.
In their home ties so far, the Czechs have relied on a superfast court at Prague's O2 Arena filled with thousands of frantic fans. Now they know the surface will be different.
"Neither Tipsarevic nor their doubles players can play on clay. They will choose a hard surface ... but a slower one," Navratil said.
The crowd will be very different, too.
"It's one of the worst environments; those are not tennis fans, those are football fans, we have already seen that," said Navratil. "We have to fight with that and the boys must close ranks."
Famous for wild fist-pumping and determined self-motivation when playing for the Czech team, Stepanek said a victory was "realistic".
"We've been doing well and I believe we have one more step ahead of us to make things even nicer," he said.
"We would like to keep the trophy because it's beautiful."
Djokovic won both his singles rubbers on the weekend to down Canada and believes home advantage in Belgrade will be crucial in the final.
"Winning the 2010 trophy was an inspiration to all of us to excel the following season on the ATP Tour and that's why the Davis Cup has a very special place in my heart," said Djokovic.
"I've won a number of Grand Slams, but nothing compares to sharing the joy of victory with your teammates, who are there for you and cheer on every shot you take on the court in the Davis Cup."
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns a volley against Canada's Milos Raonic during their Davis Cup semifinal in Belgrade on Sunday. Marko Deurica / Reuters
(China Daily 09/17/2013 page24)