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By Erik Gudris

Radek Stepanek Davis Cup 2012 (November 18th, 2012) -- In a match that will seal his name into Czech tennis history, Radek Stepanek used his all-court guile and a speedy indoor court to help propel his Czech team to the Davis Cup title over defending champions Spain.

After David Ferrer easily beat Tomas Berdych in straight sets to level the tie at 2-all earlier in the day, Stepanek faced the pressure of trying to win his country's second Davis Cup title against Nicolas Almagro, who beat him in their last meeting at the U.S. Open. But Stepanek, who sported a shirt emblazoned with the Czech Lion, took advantage of the fast indoor court and seemed the most willing to be aggressive in the decisive moments of the match.

But both men showed their nerves early on in the early moments of the match with each player saving break points in their opening service games. At just 1-all after 15 minutes of play, the tone was set that it could be a long afternoon for everyone involved.

While Almagro focused his early strategy on breaking down the Czech's weaker forehand side, Stepanek himself found the most success up at net. Up 5-4 Stepanek, with the help of some strong returns that allowed him to rush Almagro on the baseline, broke the Spaniard to take the first set 6-4.

Fueled by the noisy and partisan Czech crowd, Stepanek continued his momentum and looked on the verge of breaking Almagro early in the second set. But Almagro, after multiple deuces, stood his ground to hold on for 1-all. Soon, it was Almagro off of the strength of his own returns who broke Stepanek for the first time to take a 3-2 lead.

But Stepanek fought back as he ripped a backhand pass to break Almagro later on to even the set at 4-all. Stepanek, with some big serving and some old school serve and volley climbed back from 15-40 on his own serve to hold for 5-4. Stepanek pressured Almagro, earning two set points in the next game, but Almagro fought them off as well as two more set points against him at 6-5 to eventually force a tiebreak.

But it was there that Almagro fell apart. In a series of bad mistakes, Almagro either sent his forehand into the net or wide giving Stepanek a commanding 6-0 lead. Stepanek, with yet another sizzling backhand winner, slammed the door on Almagro by winning the tiebreak 7-0 and thus earning a two sets to love lead.

Stepanek pounced on a reeling Almagro and soon held a 0-40 lead on the Spaniard's opening service game in the third set. But Almagro held his serve and then later broke Stepanek to earn a 4-2 lead. Big serving from Almagro down the stretch allowed to close out the set 6-3 and keep Spain's hopes alive.

Though he may have been tiring, Stepanek found one last burst of energy to break Almagro to take a 2-0 lead in the fourth set. Stepanek held on to his lead and soon found himself at match point on Almagro's serve at 5-2. Almagro saved it though with a backhand overhead smash winner and eventually forced Stepanek to serve for it all at 5-3.

Nerves took hold of Stepanek who tossed in a double fault, but he soon found his serve again to earn a second match point. A final netted backhand from Almagro was all it took for Stepanek to close out the 6-4, 7-6(0), 3-6, 6-3 win and thus become a national hero.

Stepanek, who will turn 34 later this month, is the oldest man in Davis Cup history to clinch a fifth set rubber in a Davis Cup final. It caps off an impressive year for the Czechs in team competitions as they also won the Hopman Cup and Fed Cup titles.

(Photo Credit: AP)

 

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