In the seaside city of Porec in Croatia, it was an absolute marathon on the opening day of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas semi final tie between Croatia and the Czech Republic, two nations that have won this glorious championship once before. The Croats won it in 2005 and the Czechs in 1980.
After the opening day’s singles that saw a total of nine hours 47 minutes of tennis played, the Czech Republic has placed itself one match away from the final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas
The day started with the amazing match between Radek Stepanekand Ivo Karlovic which Stepanek won to give the visitors the early lead. It then seemed like the Czechs were cruising to a quick 2-0 lead when Tomas Berdychlead Marin Cilic by two sets to love but the lanky Croat rallied and forced a fifth set.
Berdych hangs on
Berdych then seemed to get a second wind and he rolled through the final set to seal the victory 63 63 36 46 63 in three hours 48 minutes.
Berdych was buoyed by his team mate’s unbelievable effort to beat Karlovic and opened up what seemed like an overwhelming advantage against Marin Cilic who was coming off his best Grand Slam result by reaching the quarters of the US Open. The first two sets were soon over and the third was going with serve till Cilic realised he had to do something … and fast.
He put the pressure on Berdych and broke him and then closed out the set. The fourth see-sawed with service breaks and by now the crowd was once again well and truly in the zone with the atmosphere at fever pitch. Berdych levelled the set only to drop his serve in the ninth game and Cilic levelled the match.
The final set stayed tight but Berdych broke serve to lead 4-2 and hung on to consolidate the Czech lead.
Stepanek and Karlovic in thriller
Certainly without doubt the first match was the talking point and the most amazing of all the matches on day one of the various ties, semi final and play-off.
Stepanek and Karlovic had the crowd reaching fever pitch with their excitement. Not till the last point was played and won could anyone genuinely feel the match was in the bag. There were two service breaks in the first three games of the match and not another one happened till the 29th game of the fifth set. It was then that Stepanek, who had already saved four match points, got his chance and broke serve and served out the match in the next game.
“I was not letting my mind think it was match point; I just saw them as another point which I wanted to win,” said Stepanek. “When I sat down at the end I thought they were match points. Thinking that way in the match paid off. I knew patience would be very important.”
Two records broken
After five hours 59 minutes the Czechs were leading 67 76 76 67 1614. During that time Karlovic had broken records for aces that he already held. The Davis Cup record was 47 and the world record was 55 – he powered down a staggering 78. That record may never be broken.
The match was the fourth longest in time for Davis Cup and the 82 games made it the joint-longest in Davis Cup since the tiebreak was introduced in 1989.
“The crowd was amazing, we had a lot of fans and it was like playing at home,” said Stepanek. “I was very surprised. The Croatian fans were great as well. They gave the players lots of support and huge atmosphere. It was just an honour; that’s why we play tennis, because of fans like this.”
So down it’s to the crucial doubles rubber and it remains to be seen if the two captains will stick with their original tandems – Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko for Croatia and Lukas Dlouhy and Jan Hernych for the Czech Republic.