Belgrade, Serbia (SportsNetwork.com) - Serbian hero Novak Djokovic gave the hosts a 1-0 lead over the reigning champion Czech Republic Friday in the best- of-five Davis Cup final in Belgrade.
The second-ranked former world No. 1 Djokovic handled 34-year-old Czech Radek Stepanek 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 in 2 hours, 10 minutes on the indoor hardcourt in front of more than 20,000 spectators at Kombank Arena.
In the opening set, Djokovic raced out to a 5-2 lead only to see the gritty Stepanek fight back to level it at 5-all. The Serbian star, however, held his serve in the 11th game and then broke his Czech counterpart to take the stanza.
The second set was all Djokovic, and in the third, the Serbian slugger broke Stepanek for a 5-4 lead and then closed out the match on his serve.
Djokovic authored five service breaks, compared to only one for Stepanek.
The Australian Open titlist Djokovic has now won his last 23 matches overall, including a title just this week at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London.
The Belgrade native improved to 25-7 lifetime in his career Davis Cup singles, including a 23-3 mark indoors.
Friday's second opening singles rubber will pit world No. 7 Czech Tomas Berdych against 117th-ranked Serb Dusan Lajovic, who is the lowest-ranked player to appear in a Davis Cup final in nearly a decade.
The Serbs are playing without one-time world No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic, who has a right heel injury that he suffered last month in Spain.
Saturday's key doubles rubber currently pits a Serbian duo of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac against a Czech tandem of Lukas Rosol and Jan Hajek, but recent history would suggest that the former Wimbledon runner-up Berdych and Stepanek will play for the visitors in that one. Berdych and Stepanek are 13-1 together in Davis Cup doubles action.
Sunday's reverse singles have the red-hot Djokovic battling Berdych and Stepanek taking on the 23-year-old Lajovic.
The 2012 champion Czechs beat Spain in last year's World Group final when the heroic Stepanek won a fifth and deciding rubber in Prague.
The Serbs are captained by Bogdan Obradovic, while the Czechs, appearing in their third final in five years, are skippered by interim captain Vladimir Safarik, who is filling on for Jaroslav Navratil after he was hospitalized last week with a blood clot.
Serbia and the Czech Republic have split their two previous meetings. The Czechs beat the visiting Serbs in a quarterfinal matchup last year, while host Serbia prevailed in a semifinal in 2010, the year the Serbs corralled their lone Davis Cup title.