Prague/Belgrade: Radek Stepanek led the defending champions Czech Republic, as they took a 2-0 lead in their Davis Cup semi-final with Argentina in Prague on Friday.
Radek cruised to a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 win over Juan Monaco in the first singles while, Tomas Berdych beat Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Czechs are aiming for their third final in five years and Stepanek, fresh from winning the US Open men’s doubles title, got them off to a strong start.
After trading games in the first set, Radek won the tie-break and took that momentum into the next two sets to roll over Monaco, who is Argentina’s top player in the absence of world No. 7 Juan Martin Del Potro. “Every point is important,” Stepanek said of the fast start. “For us, the most important is three (points).”
The Czechs lifted the Cup in 2012 for the first time since erstwhile Czechoslovakia won in 1980. Argentina, who lost to the Czechs at home in the semi-finals last year, have yet to win the Davis Cup despite four final appearances.
In Belgrade, Serbia took a 1-0 lead over Canada in their semi-final after Novak Djokovic beat Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 6-0, 6-4 in the opening singles rubber on Friday. Roared on by a partisan home crowd in the Belgrade Arena, world No. 1 Djokovic strolled to victory in one hour and 44 minutes, to put 2010 winners Serbia in the driving seat.
The 26-year old from Belgrade looked a little weary in the first three games after a long-haul flight from New York following his US Open final defeat by second-ranked Rafael Nadal, but it was one-way traffic once he found his rhythm on the indoor red clay surface.
Janko Tipsarevic, who returned to the Serbian squad for the tie after a 16-month absence from the Davis Cup, faces big-serving world No. 11 Milos Raonic in the other singles.
Meanwhile, in Madrid, a ruthless Rafael Nadal made a seamless transition from hard court to clay when he crushed Sergiy Stakhovsky of the Ukraine 6-0, 6-0, 6-4 to give Spain a commanding 2-0 lead in their World Group playoff.
Turning out for his country only four days after his US Open triumph in New York, the world No. 2 showed no sign of fatigue or sympathy for his 92nd-ranked opponent as he dismantled the hapless Stakhovsky in devastating fashion at the futuristic “Magic Box” venue.
Clubbing winners apparently at will on the Manolo Santana showcourt, Nadal put Spain firmly in control following Fernando Verdasco’s 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 success against Ukrainian No. 1 Alexandr Dolgopolov in the opening singles rubber.
In other World Group playoff matches, world No. 3 Andy Murray beat 16-year-old Croatian Borna Coric 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 as Britain ended 1-1 in Umag. Switzerland were unable to call on Roger Federer but took a 2-0 lead against Ecuador, with US Open semi-finalist Stanislas Wawrinka getting his side off to a winning start. Germany also opened up a 2-0 lead against Brazil. (Reuters)