Serbia set to face France in its first Davis Cup final
Serbia will host France in an all-European Davis Cup final in December after the Serbs rallied to beat the Czech Republic 3-2 in a thrilling contest on Sunday.
Serbia, which was trailing 2-1 after Saturday's doubles, leveled the best-of-five series when Novak Djokovic defeated Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in Sunday's first reverse singles match in Belgrade.
Janko Tipsarevic then secured Serbia's first Davis Cup final appearance by beating Radek Stepanek 6-0, 7-6 (6), 6-4 in the deciding match.
France had already qualified for the Dec. 3-5 final in Belgrade by taking an unassailable 3-0 lead in Saturday's doubles. It completed a 5-0 rout on Sunday when Gilles Simon beat Eduardo Schwank 7-6 (5), 6-7 (6), 6-3 and Arnaud Clement enjoyed an emphatic 7-5, 6-1 win over Horacio Zeballos.
In December's final, both sides know the home crowd will be a key factor.
''Thank you, that's what we needed, you raised us from the dead,'' Tipsarevic told the boisterous fans who helped him to victory, while Djokovic said: ''Whoever comes to Belgrade won't be the favorite.''
France captain Guy Forget was well aware of what lies in store after his team's comfortable semifinal in Lyon.
''We've been lucky enough to just play at home so far,'' he said. ''The match was already very hard and now it will be even harder because the Serbian players Djokovic and Tipsarevic are very talented. They will probably have 20,000 people behind them. It will be tough.''
Serbia's fightback started with an inspired display from second-ranked Djokovic, who skipped the opening singles on Friday because he was still fatigued after Monday's U.S. Open final against Rafael Nadal and only returned to the Serbian capital from New York two days before the match.
He played the doubles on Saturday in a losing effort that left Serbia trailing 2-1.
But he made amends a day later in the reverse singles, despite dropping the first set and then falling heavily in the second. He needed a medical break but returned with a bandage on his right knee.
Djokovic served out for the set and broke twice to take a decisive 4-1 lead in the third, when the crowd again helped their team.
Berdych played a drop shot in the seventh game that looked like a winner until Djokovic reached it and put away a soft backhand winner across the net. Djokovic stood on the sideline with his hand cupped to his ear. The crowd roared and Berdych appeared shaken mentally as he dropped his serve again before Djokovic served out the set.
Tipsarevic won nine of the first 10 games, but nearly lost the second set after Stepanek had fought back. The Serb had to save one set point in the tiebreaker before taking a two-set lead. He raced to a 4-0 lead in the third and cruised home despite dropping serve once.
After Tipsarevic had converted his third match point, the Serbian players fell into each other's arms, then dropped to the floor and formed a circle around a Serbian flag.
''I did my best, I left everything on the court and I lost against a guy who played better,'' Stepanek said.
There was no room for such excitement in Lyon, though, for Sunday's 'dead' singles matches.
With a place in the final already secured, France captain Forget rested Gael Monfils and Michael Llodra - choosing Simon and Clement instead.
Simon did not face a single break point and closed out the match on serve after breaking Schwank's serve for the first time in the eighth game of the final set.
Clement then broke Zeballos's serve four times in taking little more than an hour to win.
France, which downed defending champion Spain 5-0 in the quarterfinals, won the last of its nine Davis Cup titles in 2001 and lost to Russia at home in the 2002 final.
''It's a dream weekend, with a lot of joy,'' French tennis federation president Jean Gachassin said. ''The Davis Cup is very important in the life of a player and in the life of a federation.''
It was also an important day in the World Group relegation playoffs.
Mardy Fish defeated Santiago Giraldo 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 to give the United States an insurmountable 3-1 lead over Colombia to remain in the top-flight of men's team tennis. The fifth match, which could not change the outcome, was canceled because of rain.
Fish became the first American to win three times in a tie since Pete Sampras in the 1995 final in Moscow. He won in Friday's singles and teamed up with John Isner to win the doubles on Saturday.
''To win three points in one Davis Cup match under these circumstance in such an important tie is one of the biggest - if not the biggest - accomplishment of my career,'' Fish said.
It was a sweet exit for retiring American captain Patrick McEnroe, whose team battled with the 2,650-meter (8,700-feet) altitude, a determined Colombia team and the absence of top players like Andy Roddick, James Blake and the imposing doubles team of Bob and Mike Byran.
Elsewhere in the World Group playoffs it was: Austria 3, Israel 2; Germany 5, South Africa 0; Sweden 3, Italy 2; India 3, Brazil 2; Kazakhstan 5, Switzerland 0; Romania 5, Ecuador 0; and Australia 2, Belgium 1, in a match suspended due to rain.