SPAIN relinquished their Davis Cup crown last night after veteran Radek Stepanek guided the Czech Republic to a stunning triumph in Prague. The hosts came into the final day with a 2-1 advantage, which was clinically wiped out by David Ferrer’s straight-sets win over Tomas Berdych.
But 33-year-old Stepanek won the decisive rubber against the higher-ranked Nicolas Almagro to hand the Czechs their first global crown as an independent nation since the former Czechoslovakia split in 1993.
Ferrer wasted little time in levelling the tie with a wonderful performance. A match-up between the world No 5 and No 6 ought to have been a close-run affair. However, it was anything, but as the Spaniard charged away with the contest.
A jaded and nervy-looking Berdych had no answer to Ferrer’s greater consistency and was powerless to prevent the 30-year-old winning 6-2 6-3 7-5 in two hours and 25 minutes.
“I played very aggressively,” said Ferrer, who felt the Czechs had perhaps asked too much of their No 1. “Berdych played a lot of matches [this weekend], five sets with Nicolas, yesterday four sets.”
That win set the stage for a decisive fifth rubber, with the smart money switching to Spain with Almagro, ranked 11 in the world, up against the Czech’s 37th-ranked Stepanek.
But the Czech broke at 5-4 to win the first set and, after they exchanged breaks, took the second on a tie-break to love.
To his credit, Almagro responded well to claim the third set on a solitary break, but Stepanek was not to be denied and raced out to a 3-0 lead in the fourth and held on to win 6-4 7-6 (7/0) 3-6 6-3 before bursting into tears as his opponent found the net on match point.
Stepanek’s win means the Czech Republic have become the first nation to win the Hopman Cup, Fed Cup and Davis Cup in the same year. “I was dreaming about this my whole life and today we’re standing here the winners,” he said. “We’ve written history today in our country. I can’t describe what I’m feeling right now.”
Stepanek admitted the weekend was particularly special due to the fact the 1980 Davis Cup-winning Czechoslovakia team – including Ivan Lendl – were cheering them on. “For us it’s amazing, they’ve been our inspiration and our idols. They are legends and now we are joining them,” he added.