Approach Shots: Spain, Czech Republic clash in Davis Cup final

It’s not often than a nation can miss its best player—an 11-time Grand Slam champion, no less—and still find itself in the hunt for a Davis Cup title. However, such is the nature of the beast that is Spain, which has hoisted the trophy three of the last four years. Even without Rafael Nadal, the Spaniards’ chances are very much alive heading into this weekend’s final showdown against the Czech Republic in Prague.

Sure, a Nadal-less tie lacks a little zest…. But that’s nothing Tomas Berdych can’t solve. Earlier in the week, Berdych ran his mouth (nothing out of the ordinary) and called Nicolas Almagro the “weak point on which we can build our victory.” As if the Berdych-Almagro rivalry (if you can actually call it that) wasn’t heated enough, now it’s spitting flames. Add the Paris champion (David Ferrer), the World Tour Finals doubles winners (Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez) and another Czech who has never been about making friends with his own gender (Radek Stepanek), and you have a recipe for an unforgettable Davis Cup final.

Spain vs. Czech Republic

Where: Prague, Czech Republic
Surface: Indoor hard

Spain: David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Marc Lopez
Czech Republic: Tomas Berdych, Radek Stepanek, Lukas Rosol, Ivo Minar

Draw

David Ferrer vs. Radek Stepanek
Nicolas Almagro vs. Tomas Berdych
Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez vs. Ivo Minar and Lukas Rosol
David Ferrer vs. Tomas Berdych
Nicolas Almagro vs. Radek Stepanek

How they got here

Spain
d. Kazakhstan 3-0 in Oviedo, Spain
d. Austria 3-1 in Castellon, Spain
d. United States 3-1 in Gijon, Spain

Czech Republic
d. Italy 3-0 Ostrava, Czech Republic
d. Serbia 3-1 in Prague, Czech Republic
d. Argentina 3-1 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Analysis

With each team’s top player facing the other country’s second man (as always), this Davis Cup final should be knotted at 1-1 after the first day of singles action. Ferrer would be a massive favorite over Stepanek on clay or a slow hard court, but he should still be able to get the job done on this ice rink. Indian Wells notwithstanding, Berdych has enjoyed some well-documented domination of Almagro this season. It’s hard to imagine Almagro turning the tide on a fast indoor hard court.

If either Spain or the Czechs has a 2-0 edge heading into Saturday, it will be extremely surprising and likely decisive. Either way, the doubles rubber is huge because each of the reverse singles matches is up for grabs. Don’t even look twice at the Minar-Rosol submission; Berdych and Stepanek are playing no matter what for the home side. They make a formidable doubles team, especially on this surface, but Granollers and Lopez storm in with unprecedented momentum. In terms of quality, intensity, and stakes (and the fact that it’s using real scoring and has five-set potential), this could be one of the best doubles matches of the year.

Home-court advantage, as it often is, may be the ultimate difference on Sunday. Ferrer and Berdych are both playing great tennis at the moment. On clay, the fifth-ranked Spaniard is an easy pick in this matchup. On anything faster than medium fast, though, the edge goes to Berdych. Ferrer just captured the biggest title of his career on an indoor hard court (Paris), but that court was molasses compared to this one and he also didn’t have to go through anyone like Berdych en route.

Similarly, Almagro would almost certainly take Stepanek to the woodshed on clay. Indoors? Eh…not so much. The 33-year-old Czech isn’t exactly on fire right now, but he knows how to play to a crowd and he’s been a solid Davis Cup performer in the past. Blood may be spilled in what should be a thriller between these two fiery guys…if the fifth rubber is live.

Predictions

Ferrer over Stepanek in 4
Berdych over Almagro in 3
Granollers/Lopez over Berdych/Stepanek in 5
Berdych over Ferrer in 4
Stepanek over Almagro in 4

Czech Republic 3, Spain 2

Comments and your own predictions are appreciated!

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