SPAIN made the perfect start to the defence of their Davis Cup title as David Ferrer beat Radek Stepanek in the opening rubber of the final in Prague. World No 5 Ferrer has been the leader for Spain this year in the absence of the injured Rafael Nadal and he stepped up again to win 6-3 6-4 6-4 on the fast indoor surface at the O2 Arena.
Spain have dominated the competition in recent years, winning three of the last four titles and losing only two rubbers in three finals. In 2009, they played the Czech Republic and won 5-0, with Ferrer fighting back from two sets to love down to defeat Stepanek, but it was a lot more straightforward this time.
The 30-year-old was in the ascendancy from the start and Stepanek needed all his fighting spirit to hold off Ferrer in a sixth game that featured seven break points and lasted more than 20 minutes. But in his next service game, the 33-year-old Czech’s resistance was broken as he threw in his fourth and fifth double faults of the set, which Ferrer duly took.
Stepanek was broken again at the start of the second set and all the pressure was coming from Ferrer, but there was a chink of light for the hosts when the Spaniard dropped serve for the first time to make it 3-3. However, it proved not to be the turning point the crowd were hoping for as Ferrer moved ahead again in the ninth game with a return that was too good even for the supreme volleying powers of Stepanek. The Czechs are going for a second Davis Cup title 32 years after Czechoslovakia won for the only time, while they are also bidding for a rare Davis Cup-Fed Cup double following victory for Petra Kvitova and co at the same venue two weeks ago.
Stepanek was fighting a losing battle and was broken twice more – Ferrer taking the fourth and fifth of 25 break points to move to the brink of victory. Stepanek had a last hurrah when he retrieved one break with Ferrer serving for victory, but 30-year-old made no mistake with his second chance.