PRAGUE − Veteran Radek Stepanek sparked tennis history for the Czech Republic Sunday as he clinched a 3-2 victory over five-time champion Spain with a picture-perfect deciding rubber win against Nicolas Almagro.
Playing in the 100th Davis Cup final, the 33-year-old became the first over-30 in a century to win a deciding fifth rubber.
His 6-4, 7-6 (7-0), 3-6, 6-3 win took nearly four hours of steely nerves and precise shot-making in front of 13,500 fans.
The win made up for a loss to Spain in the 2009 final. Czechoslovakia won the Davis Cup 30 years ago, with members of that team including Ivan Lendl watching all weekend from the stands.
The victory marked a tennis double for the Czechs, whose women’s side won the Fed Cup at the same O2 Arena a fortnight ago.
The final day of play went down to the Stepanek-Almagro battle after David Ferrer had kept Spain in the tie as he beat Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 to knot the weekend at 2-2.
Stepanek secured the victory on his second match point as Almagro fired a backhand into the net. He ended a run for the Spanish dynasty that had won four of the last five editions of the worldwide team competition and had claimed five titles since 2000.
“Radek played his best tennis for us to win; this is an amazing win,” said Czech coach Jaroslav Navratil, as his overjoyed players and other team and staff members joined hands and led all four sides of the stadium in chants.
“I’ve dreamed of this my whole life,” said Stepanek. “We are standing here as Davis Cup champions. It’s amazing, we’ve written history today in our small country. I cannot describe what I’m feeling now.”
The Czech hero won the first set and came back from a break in the second to sweep the tiebreak 7-0. Almagro rallied to claim the third with one break.
But it was a Stepanek show in the fourth set as the veteran broke for 2-0 but did not panic when Almagro saved a match point in the eighth game to hang in for 3-5. A game later the celebrations began as Stepanek closed out the weekend.
“I had lot of chances in the second set .... I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, I wanted to control the game,” said Stepanek.
“It paid off. Even if I lost the third set I knew I was on the right way.”
According to Stepanek, “I came to the court with the mind-set that I had to stay calm, hungry, motivated, concentrated and always know what I was doing. I did that tremendously well today. The team of 1980 was our inspiration and our idols. They’ve been with us here. They are the legends and we are joining them.”
Spain, now 5-4 in Davis Cup finals, was playing without Rafael Nadal, who has been injured for five months.
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