In Sports News this Monday: The Czech men’s tennis team scored a famous victory at the weekend, beating Spain in the final of the Davis Cup to take the title for the first time as an independent state. The hero of the hour, veteran Radek Štěpánek, says he is “living the dream” and that the presence at Prague’s O2 Arena of the Czechoslovak team that took the trophy in 1980 made the occasion all the sweeter.
Around 13,000 fans at a sold-out O2 Arena in Prague cheered ecstatically on Sunday night, as the Czech men’s tennis team were presented with the Davis Cup trophy after a dramatic final win over Spain.
The two sides had been tied at 2:2 going into the fifth and last rubber between Radek Štěpánek and Nicolas Almagro, who is a full 26 places higher than the Czech in the world rankings. But Štěpánek, set to turn 34 next week, played the match of his career to beat the Spaniard 6-4 7-6(0) 3-6 6-3 – becoming in the process the oldest player ever to decide the final rubber in a Davis Cup final.
When the last point went his way Štěpánek, clad in a shirt featuring the lion from the Czech coat of arms, fell to his knees in jubilation before being mobbed by his cheering teammates and support crew. He was still grinning from ear to ear during a news conference later.
“I’m living the dream right now. I believe all of us, the whole country, is living the dream today. We’ve been working very hard for this moment. We put ourselves on the line, we put our hearts, out hard work, everything into it. Today we touched the Davis Cup. It will stay with us…For our country it’s the first time for 32 years. It’s something which I hope will be remembered forever.”
The weekend’s win represented the sweetest kind of revenge for the Czechs, who had been hammered 5:0 by the Spaniards in Barcelona in the 2009 final. Indeed, Spain have dominated the tournament recently, winning it in three out of the last four years.
Of the Czech team this time out, only Štěpánek and Tomáš Berdych – both veterans of that drubbing in Spain – took to the court, with Lukáš Rosol and Ivo Minář both unused. Berdych had looked tired in Sunday’s first match, in which he was comprehensively beaten by an in-form David Ferrer.
The Czech Republic’s non-playing captain Jaroslav Navratil had this to say to the Davis Cup website just moments after the tournament ended.
“It’s an unbelievable emotion. We had been waiting for 32 years to win, and today it happened. It was an unbelievably tough match, because in the first match David Ferrer was playing great and Tomáš didn’t have any chances. But Radek played his best tennis ever and beat Almagro, which is unbelievable.”
The Czech Republic’s triumph in the Davis Cup was its first as an independent state, with its only previous success coming as part of Czechoslovakia in 1980. The four members of that team – Ivan Lendl, Pavel Složil, Tomáš Šmíd, and Jan Kodeš – were in attendance at the O2 Arena and at least a couple of the old-timers were visibly moved by the occasion. The hero of the hour in 2012, Radek Štěpánek, said the former players’ presence added to the moment.
“For me personally they’ve been idols. For us to play a team competition is a very rare opportunity during the year, and standing next to the cup with them was something amazing.”
The Czech Republic’s women had won the Fed Cup at the O2 Arena just a
fortnight prior to Sunday’s men’s triumph and the country’s first
simultaneous possession of the two major international trophies – as
as the season-opening Hopman Cup – represents without question the high
water mark in the history of Czech team tennis.
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