The city of Porec in northern Croatia is playing host to the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas for the third time this year. In the first round the home side defeated Chile, in the quarterfinal they accounted for the USA in a nail-biting tie and now they are hoping the spirit of good luck will shine on them against the Czech Republic.
At the Davis Cup dinner on Wednesday night, which was a lively and fun-filled, the night before the draw ceremony, the two man band played a fantastic selection of music that had both teams having a blast. But when the Czech team got up to leave for the evening the lead singer of the band called out: “Czech team I tell you this is not a good idea to leave first. Chile and USA leave first from the dinner and both lost.”
With that Radek Stepanek took his coat back off and the guys sat down to applause and laughter.
At the draw the first name called out was that of Radek Stepanek, the No. 1 Czech player which meant that he would face the No. 2 Croat in the first match, Ivo Karlovic. Tomas Berdych who is celebrating his 24th birthday will play Marin Cilic, who is coming off a great run at the US Open which saw him reach the quarters.
The full draw is as follows:
Ivo Karlovic (CRO) v Radek Stepanek (CZE)
Marin Cilic (CRO) v Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Roko Karanusic/Lovro Zovko (CRO) v Lukas Dlouhy/Jan Hajek (CZE)
Marin Cilic (CRO) v Radek Stepanek (CZE)
Ivo Karlovic (CRO) v Tomas Berdych (CZE)
“It feels great to be in the semis but not satisfied because we’d like more,” said Stepanek. “We prepared as much as we could and we are looking forward to the tie. Playing Karlovic is always strange and tricky, you get no rhythm. You have few chances and you have to try and take them once they come because there are not many. There will not be much rallies so it’s important to focus all the time.”
Cilic suggested he didn’t want to be labelled as the leader of his side. He said both he and Karlovic are leaders.
“It’s my pleasure to play Davis Cup and to be the number one player but I am still young and wouldn’t want to put that weight on myself as being the leader. I don’t feel that way. We have a great team and giving our best in Davis Cup. I am going to enjoy this tie as the ones before.”
The doubles rubber on Saturday has Lukas Dlouhy who won the US Open doubles with Leander Paes, teams up with Jan Hajek against Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko. However, neither of the combinations remained confident that the nominated tandems would remain the same. The comment from the two sides was: “We will see, maybe we will play.”
The final day’s reverse singles puts the two number ones opposite one another, Cilic against Stepanek and closing out the weekend it’s Karlovic against Berdych. The tie is being played on an indoor clay court at the Sportska dvorana »Zatika », a venue that is only ten months old and sort of looks like a multi-layered igloo.
The tie between the Croatia and the Czech Republic is the first between the two nations but both nations are Davis Cup champions – the Czechs won it in 1980 with Ivan Lendl leading them (he has said that he will be at the final this year if the Czechs make it), while the Croats did it in 2005 with Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic at the helm.
This year marks the second time Croatia has reached the semis while the Czech Republic last made the final four in 1996.
“We are happy and looking forward to being in the semi finals after four years and we have chances to take the step forward but I feel the Czechs are the favourites,” said Croatian captain Goran Prpic. “They are better ranked than our players and I watched them practice and Berdych is playing like a top five player, I don’t know why he’s not top five.”
Jarolsav Navratil smiled when he was told that but wasn’t going to be so forward and suggest the same. He said they were proud to be in the semis after 13 years.
“It’s difficult to say, we are not playing at home so I think the chances are 50-50” said Navratil. “For the first day I am happy that Radek plays first because he may play all three days.”