Prague – Radek Stepanek gave holders Czech Republic a 1-0 lead over Argentina in the Davis Cup semi-finals here on Friday, after breezing past Juan Monaco in straight sets in the opening rubber.
Stepanek, the world number 61 and Czech number two, needed two hours and 33 minutes to see off 30th-ranked Monaco, Argentina's number one, 7-6 (7/3), 6-3, 6-2.
On the superfast acrylic hardcourt of Prague's O2 Arena, where the Czechs lifted the trophy last year after beating Spain 3-2, Stepanek took the first set in a tie-break following two breaks apiece.
In the second set, Monaco, glued to the baseline most of the time, came back from 3-0 down, but Stepanek capitalised on his own aggressive style and an improved serve to win 6-3.
Increasingly aggressive at the net, Stepanek then took the third set easily, giving up only two games to earn his fifth win from seven encounters with Monaco.
“I tried to be active all the time, I was on the defensive for a while, then I attacked, took a few risks, so I played what we had set as the tactics,” Stepanek said after the game.
“I'm happy with my performance,” he added.
Monaco admitted Stepanek was the better man on the court.
“He played so much better than me. I had my chances in the first set but couldn't make it and somehow he figured it out to play better, with more confidence, and the match became difficult for me,” he said.
“In the final set I thought I'm going to come back, but he played really well.
“He impressed me a little bit, I knew that he's a good player on this kind of court, but he played really well today,” Monaco said.
World number five Tomas Berdych is now due to face world number 93 Leonardo Mayer in Friday's second rubber.
“We have a point and I believe it will inspire Tomas, who will try to rake in another one,” Stepanek said.
The winner of the tie will take on either Canada or Serbia in the November 15-17 final. – Sapa-AFP