Prague: Radek Stepanek won a pulsating fifth rubber to steer the Czech Republic to claim the Davis Cup for the first time as an independent nation by beating defending champions Spain 3-2, in the 100th year of competition.
According to the Davis Cup website, the Czech Sunday created his own little piece of history by becoming the first 30-plus player to win a fifth live rubber in 100 years by overpowering world number 11 Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 7-6 (7-0), 3-6, 6-3.
Earlier in the opening singles, David Ferrer beat Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-3, 7-5, to tie the rubber 2-2 for Spain.
Thus, the Czech Republic became the first nation to simultaneously hold the Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Hopman Cup.
The Czechs won the Davis Cup as part of Czechoslovakia 30 years ago when Ival Lendl and Tomas Smid did exactly what Berdych and Stepanek did spending the entire three days on the court to play both the singles and doubles to beat Italy 4-1 in the 1980 final.
“They’ve been our inspiration, our idols. They’re the legends and now we’re joining them,” Stepanek said pointing the former greats who were present in the arena.
Ranked 37 in the world, Stepanek at 33 years was an underdog against Almagro, six years younger to him. But the Czech veteran was boosted by a fast hard court that suited his aggressive style of play and the backing of a boisterous 13,000 spectators inside Prague’s O2 Arena.
“I was dreaming about this moment my whole life and now we’re standing here as Davis Cup champions, it’s amazing,” said an emotional Stepanek who went into a war dance vaulting the net and tearing off his t-shirt after the victory.
“I’m living a dream,” said Stepanek, who wept openly. “We have been working very hard very hard for this moment. It was the biggest pressure under which I’ve ever played. Everything was at stake.”
Berdych added: “This is a moment we’ll never forget.”
“I can’t describe my feelings, I came on the court with the mindset that I had to stay calm, hungry, motivated and concentrate.
“I was playing very aggressively today. I wanted to be the one who was active, who was controlling the game and it paid off,” said the Czech who won an whopping 41 points at the net.
Stepanek was straightaway on course, taking the first set with one break. He looked far more convincing in the second, though he let slip four set points before racing through the tie-break like a man possessed.
Two sets up, the Czech was 40-0 up at the start of the third set when Almagro got out of trouble and went on to take the set.
As the three-hour mark crossed, the Spaniard might have fancied a chance himself against the older player, but Stepanek dug deep into his resources.
The Czech jumped to a 3-0 lead in the fourth set and kept his nerve remarkably to hold on to the advantage and convert his second match point.
There were jubilant scenes as Stepanek dropped to the court and his teammates Tomas Berdych, Lukas Rosol, Ivo Minar and captain Jaroslav Navratil jumped on him.
Berdych, who had to go through four hours of intense battle to outlast Almagro in the second singles on the opening day of the tie and then played in the doubles win Saturday, looked drained out against a much fitter Ferrer in the first reverse singles.
World number five Ferrer, who has had the best year of his career, packed too much for Berdych, winning in a little under two-and-a-half hours to bring the reigning champions level.
“These are very tough moments,” Almagro told Spanish broadcaster TVE after the defeat. “But we can’t be down on ourselves in any way as we fought to the last moment.
“We are runners-up in the Davis Cup. We are leaving with our heads held high knowing that we did a good job.”
“We’re sad at this moment,” Ferrer said after Almagro’s loss. “I’m very proud of our team. We were fighting to win here in Prague.”
The Czechs beat Italy, Serbia and Argentina en route to the final. Spain, without the injured Rafael Nadal, had been looking for its sixth title.