Tomas Berdych struggled mightily to pull the Czech Republic level 1-1 with tennis powerhouse Spain as he defeated Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3 on Friday to keep the Davis Cup final wide open.
Berdych rescued the hosts after Spanish bulldog David Ferrer posted a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Radek Stepanek.
“This is our first point and it’s the most we could have asked for today,” said Berdych, who said he relished the chance to play a fifth set against Almagro. “This means an open draw on Sunday, no matter how the doubles goes.” Berdych, ranked sixth, led 2-1 on sets with a 3-1 lead in the fourth when he suddenly lost focus against the 11th-ranked Almagro.
The Czech let it slip away as he lost the break in the sixth game, then never came close in the tiebreaker before the match went into a deciding fifth set.
The Czech broke midway through the set as Almagro began to feel the heat of the moment. The Spaniard took the loss as the match approached the four-hour mark, with Berdych immediately losing the break a game later.
One more game brought another break as Berdych willed himself into the lead with a return which kissed the sideline according to electronic line-calling.
Berdych served out the tight victory as Almagro put a backhand wide.
“I messed up the fourth set tiebreak so I was looking forward to the fifth set,” said the winner, who could well find himself on court 14 hours after his win if he and Stepanek play the doubles rubber as expected.
Berdych won his ninth match from a dozen against Almagro, with whom he had a run-in earlier this season, refusing to shake hands at the end of a match. They barely touched palms after the latest installment.
Spain lead the Czechs 4-2 in their all-time series.
The unstoppable Ferrer played his 90th match of the season as he faced Stepanek, and has competed in 14 in the course of 24 days, with titles in Valencia and Paris before playing the London season-wrapup.
Spain is chasing a sixth Davis title since 2000, although the team is without injured Rafael Nadal.
The Spanish defending champions are bidding to win their first away final since 2008 when they went to South America and beat Argentina to bring back the silverware.
Ferrer gave Spain the early lead on his second match point after putting a forehand out on his first chance. A Stepanek volley into the net ended the contest in front of 13,500 fans.
“I’m very pleased with my game. I played well,” said the Spaniard.
“I won it three sets, that’s perfect. We are 1-0 up but this tie is a long one and it’s far from over.
“The court is very fast but I handled it well, I’m happy with how I did.” Stepanek knew he faced a tough task against Ferrer. “I knew that from the back of the court he was going to be like a machine,” said Stepanek. “That’s what I expected.
“I always in every set felt behind. ... In the third set, I was two breaks down. I was able to come back. But if you let such a player like David be in front in every other set, it’s very difficult to break him down.” Ferrer’s win marked his 17th victory in his last 18 Davis matches, taking his record in the competition to 22-4.