Stepanek lifts Czechs to Davis Cup title, again

Belgrade, Serbia ( - For the second time in 12 months, Radek Stepanek is a Davis Cup hero for the Czech Republic.

The 34-year-old tour veteran throttled young Serb Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 in Sunday's fifth and deciding rubber in the best-of-five final between the visiting Czech Republic and host Serbia.

The Czechs beat Spain in last year's World Group finale when Stepanek won a fifth and deciding match on home soil in Prague.

Stepanek prevailed in 1 hour, 52 minutes by breaking Lajovic seven times, while the overmatched Serb settled for only one break on only one break-point chance in the predictable setback.

"I don't think words can describe it," said Stepanek. "To defend this trophy means the world for us and our country.

"We played in Serbia, on their surface, in front of their fantastic crowd. We made history today. I felt great on the court here since Friday and I just proved it. I've been top 10 singles, top 10 doubles, I've won two Grand Slams, and played the Masters in singles and doubles, but winning the Davis Cup tops it all."

The gritty Stepanek improved to 14-13 in his career Davis Cup singles, while the 23-year-old Lajovic dropped to 1-2, including 0-2 in live rubbers, with both losses coming this week. The 117th-ranked Lajovic, who replaced injured former top-10 star Janko Tipsarevic in the hosts' lineup this week, was the lowest-ranked player to appear in a Davis Cup final in nearly a decade.

Earlier Sunday, second-ranked former world No. 1 superstar Novak Djokovic set the stage for the deciding rubber by handling world No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 after 2 hours, 41 minutes of absorbing tennis in the first reverse singles bout in front of a raucous crowd at Belgrade's Kombank Arena.

Djokovic improved to 15-2 lifetime against the former Wimbledon runner-up Berdych, including a 4-1 record this year. The Serb also topped the Czech in Davis Cup play in 2010.

The 26-year-old Djokovic improved to 27-7 in his career Davis Cup singles, while the 6-foot-5 Berdych slipped to 27-13.

The sizzling Australian Open titlist Djokovic capped his year by winning his last 24 matches overall, including a title last week at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London. He hasn't lost since giving way to current No. 1 Rafael Nadal in September's U.S. Open final.

The now two-time defending champion Czechs headed into Sunday with a 2-1 lead against Serbia after their doubles tandem of Berdych and Stepanek bested a duo of Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), on Saturday.

In Friday's opening singles, the Belgrade native Djokovic straight-setted the world No. 44 Stepanek 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 and Berdych blitzed Lajovic, also in straights, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

The Serbs were captained by Bogdan Obradovic, while the Czechs, appearing in their third final in five years, were skippered by interim captain Vladimir Safarik, who was filling in for Jaroslav Navratil after he was hospitalized with a blood clot last week.

"It's a dream," declared Safarik. "The first thing I have to say, is it's a privilege to be on this team. Having Tomas and Radek on the team is something special. I'm really proud of my team, it's really amazing what they achieved. Radek is a real professional."

The Czech Republic is now 3-2 all-time against Serbia. The Czechs also beat the Serbs in a quarterfinal matchup last year in Prague, while Serbia prevailed in a semifinal in Belgrade in 2010, the year the Serbs corralled their lone Davis Cup championship.

The high-flying Czechs are the first repeat Davis Cup champs since Spain in 2008-09.

This marked the 102nd year of Davis Cup tennis. The opening round in 2014 will be staged in eight countries in late-January/early-February.