Czechs go 2-0 up in Davis Cup semi with Argentina

By Jason Hovet

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek powered defending champions Czech Republic to a 2-0 lead in their Davis Cup encounter against Argentina on Friday, moving them within one win of their third final in five years.

The world number five Berdych overcame a touch challenge from Leonardo Mayer, winning 6-4 4-6 6-3 6-4 at the O2 Arena in Prague, where the Czech team lifted the trophy as an independent nation for the first time last year.

Earlier, U.S. Open doubles champion Stepanek cruised to a 7-6(3) 6-3 6-2 win over Juan Monaco, Argentina's top-ranked player in the absence of world number seven Juan Martin Del Potro.

Mayer, the lowest ranked on both teams at 93 in the world and making his first Davis Cup appearance since 2010, matched Berdych's power game early on and levelled the match at one set apiece.

But after the 26-year-old Argentine scored the first point of the third set, Berdych reeled off three straight games.

He broke Mayer in the second game with a backhand and sent down a pair of aces in the third, to move into a comfortable position.

"I was kind of fighting with myself with the rhythm of a bit faster court from the beginning in those first two sets," Berdych told reporters.

"Then I just got the rhythm back and started to serve on the standard that I'm used to and getting some easy points, and that was actually the key to the game...

"We have a 2-0 lead after Friday and that is what we wanted or maybe better. The most important thing is now to get ready for tomorrow," he added in a courtside interview.

PERFECT START

The Czechs were playing at home for the first time this season and Stepanek got the crowd fired-up early.

He double faulted twice as he blew the chance to serve out the first set at 6-5 but then regained his composure in the tie-break, storming ahead 6-0, before closing it out with a well-placed backhand to the corner.

Stepanek, who came into the competition on the back of winning the men's doubles title with Leander Paes at Flushing Meadows last weekend, then comfortably saw out the match in straight sets.

"The longer I was on the court, the better my play got," he told reporters after giving the Czechs the perfect start to their semi-final.

With Stepanek winning three times as many points at the net as his opponent, Monaco said the court favoured the Czech.

"I had my chances in the first set but couldn't make them," he said. "He played really well. I knew he was a good player on this type of court. Playing this kind of court is not easy."

Berdych and Stepanek are likely to team up for Saturday's doubles, hoping to finish the job and secure a spot in the final where they will face either Serbia or Canada.

They are Czechs' all-time best doubles pairing with a 12-1 record and helped their country lift the Cup in 2012 for the first time since Czechoslovakia won in 1980.

They played in every live rubber in that title campaign, but are featuring together in a tie for the first time in 2013.

Argentina were runners-up in 2011 but lost to the Czechs at home in the semi-finals last year. They have yet to win the Davis Cup despite four final appearances.

"It is more difficult than yesterday. But we still have three points to play for... We still have a chance," Argentina's captain Martin Jaite said.

(Editing by Toby Davis)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have been able to purchase batting replacements for the loss of Michael Hussey and spin reinforcements in the form of Samuel Badree. They appear… More »

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

New-look RCB will play their first game of IPL-7 on Thursday. More »

Shane Watson issues moral warning

Shane Watson issues moral warning

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

IPL: News Line

IPL: News Line

A round-up of all the news from this season of the IPL. More »

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Nepal players call off boycott

Nepal players call off boycott

Thaw in relations after formation of an advisory committee that would work in tandem with the Cricket Association of Nepal. More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »