With Argentina missing leading player Juan Martin del Potro, defending champion Czech Republic has high hopes of winning their Davis Cup semifinal this weekend and reaching the final for a third time in five years.
Also bolstering the Czechs’ confidence is the reunion of Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek for the first time this year. Moreover, both have been in good form recently.
Berdych climbed to his career-highest world No. 5 place in August while Stepanek won the U.S. Open doubles together with Leander Paes of India, a huge confidence boost for the 34-year-old veteran who had to undergo a neck operation earlier this year.
”We’re the favorite,” Berdych said. ”We play at home, we play on the surface which we like. We have our home crowd which helps us a lot and we have the strongest team possible. For us the goal is to make three points.”
Berdych, who lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the U.S. Open’s fourth round, missed the 3-1 quarterfinal victory at Kazakhstan due to an injury, while Stepanek was not available for the first-round 3-2 victory in Switzerland.
Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely are also on the team but unlikely to play if Berdych and Stepanek remain fit.
They played all five rubbers in last year’s final in Prague, beating Spain 3-2 to give their country its first Davis Cup title as an independent nation..
Stepanek clinched the title with a 6-4, 7-6 (0), 3-6, 6-3 upset victory over Nicolas Almagro in the last reverse singles.
”I’m 100 percent fit and ready to play all three days,” said Stepanek who only returned from New York City on Monday.
But even without the absent del Potro, Argentina won’t be a pushover. Led by Juan Monaco, the team reached the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year, thrashing Germany 5-0 in the first round before overcoming nine-time champion France 3-2 in the quarterfinal.
”We have chances for sure,” Argentine captain Martin Jaite said with confidence.
”Davis Cup is always difficult competition. We’ve come here to win. So we’re working very hard to try to beat the Czechs and go to the finals,” Jaite said. Argentina has never won the Davis Cup.
Carlos Berlocq, Horacio Zeballos and Leonardo Mayer will play alongside Monaco, the highest ranked Argentine at No. 30.
Del Potro skipped the Davis Cup this year.
The Czech Republic won its last two encounters with Argentina, handing the South Americans particularly bitter 3-2 defeat in last year’s semis in Buenos Aires on clay.
In the second opening singles match, Monaco took a 2-1 lead before Berdych rallied to win.
”Last year, I missed a great opportunity, (I have) a new chance now,” Monaco said.
”On this kind of court, it will be harder for me, but it’s Davis Cup, you never know, every point is totally different,” Monaco said.
He also lost to Berdych in five sets in the Czech Republic’s 2009 victory at home to Argentina in the quarterfinals and is 0-6 overall against the Czech.
With plenty of support from a capacity crowd of more than 13,000, who will see their team for the first time since last year’s triumph, the Czechs have another advantage. As in the final against Spain, they elected to play the series on their favorite fast surface to counter Argentina’s clay court specialists.
Monaco said he would like to emulate the success of his friend Rafael Nadal, having watched his U.S. Open victory over Novak Djokovic on television in Prague.
”It was a match of high intensity. I was happy for him. He really deserved to win,” Monaco said. ”If you’re close to him, you learn things all the time. Every day, you can learn something.”