Czechs look to break Spanish hold on Davis Cup
The last time the Czechs played Spain in the Davis Cup final, they were swept 5-0 on the Spaniards' favourite clay surface in Barcelona.
Three years later, the Czech Republic is playing at home on a fast indoor hard court. What's more, Spain is playing without injured Rafael Nadal.
All of which gives the Czechs hope of winning their first Davis Cup title as an independent nation since the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia won its only title in 1980, when Ivan Lendl led the team to victory. Defending champion Spain is looking for its fourth title in five years.
"So far, it's the biggest moment of my career," sixth-ranked Czech star Tomas Berdych said. "It is our goal to bring the trophy back (home) after so many years."
The 100th Davis Cup final starts Friday with Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic playing David Ferrer in the opening singles of the best-of-five series. Berdych will face Nicolas Almagro in the second singles match in Prague's O2 Arena.
Ivo Minar and Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic were selected to play Saturday's doubles against Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, who won the ATP World Tour Finals title in London on Monday.
But captain Jaroslav Navratil is expected to bring in Berdych and Stepanek, who are 11-1 in Davis Cup doubles.
In Sunday's reverse singles, Berdych is scheduled to face Ferrer and Stepanek to meet Almagro.
The Czechs are seeking to complete a rare double two weeks after their women secured the Fed Cup title at the same arena. No country has won both competitions in the same year since the United States in 1990.
The last time the Czechs beat Spain was as Czechoslovakia in 1971.
The fifth-ranked Ferrer is wrapping up the best season of his career, a year that has included a tour-best seven tournament titles.
"Tomorrow's going to be a really difficult match," Ferrer said after Thursday's draw. "When I play him (Stepanek), it's always a very close match."
Ferrer has a career 6-3 record against Stepanek and beat him in five sets when the two teams met in the Davis Cup final three years ago.
"I remember the final in 2009. It was an amazing match," Ferrer said. "This time, it's going to be a similar match on a different surface. But I have to play my best tennis to beat him."
Spain hasn't lost on clay in 12 years, but the hard court plays to the Czech players' strengths.
"I'll try to use the surface to play my aggressive tennis," the 37th-ranked Stepanek said. "Ferrer is known to be a big fighter but anyone can be beaten."
Berdych has beaten the 11th-ranked Almagro in four of their five matches this year but said that doesn't mean much now.
"All that will be erased and we'll start from zero again," the big-serving Czech said.
Berdych praised the court that Ferrer said was faster than the surfaces at the recent ATP World Tour Finals in London and the Paris Masters.
"That's what the Davis Cup is all about," Berdych said. "The court is perfect. They prepared it exactly as we wished."
Almagro, who is undefeated in the Davis Cup this year, wants it to stay that way.
"We're ready to fight," he said.