Czechs open big lead over Japan in Davis Cup

Tokyo, Japan ( - Radek Stepanek and Lukas Rosol won singles matches Friday to give the Czech Republic a commanding lead over Japan in their Davis Cup quarterfinal.

Stepanek earned the first point with a 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, 7-5 victory over Tatsuma Ito before Rosol fought off a late charge from Taro Daniel and claimed a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 triumph to give the two-time reigning Davis Cup champs a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five tie.

The Czechs need only a doubles victory on Saturday from the duo of Stepanek and Jiri Vesely or one reverse singles win on Sunday to advance to the semifinals.

Stepanek and Vesely are currently scheduled to meet Ito and Yasutaka Uchiyama on Saturday. Rosol and Ito are slated for the first reverse singles match on Sunday, while Stepanek and Daniel are on the docket for a potential fifth rubber.

Ito, ranked 146th in the world, had a strong start and was just two points away from a two-set lead. After surprising Stepanek by winning the first set in a tiebreaker, he built a 5-3 lead in the second-set tiebreak. Stepanek, though, rallied with four straight points to turn the match around.

"It didn't go well in the beginning," said Stepanek, who also fought off a set point before the second-set tiebreaker. "I said if he keeps playing like this, there's no way he can be 150 in the rankings."

The 35-year-old Davis Cup hero then dominated the third set for the visitors with a pair of breaks and picked up the decisive break in the fourth for a 6-5 lead before an easy hold to finish the nearly four-hour match.

"He was in a great position and nobody expected him to win," Stepanek said of Ito. "Sometimes you have days when you're not playing your best tennis, but you have to find a way through and today was the day like that and I was very happy to bring the first point to our locker room."

Rosol appeared to be on his way to an easy victory after taking the first two sets in just 70 minutes. Daniel, however, earned the lone break of the third set for a 5-4 lead and broke twice early in the fourth to force a decisive fifth set.

An early break for Rosol gave him command of the fifth. He never lost serve in the decisive set and broke again to finish it in 3 hours and 12 minutes.

Both teams are without their top players this weekend. World No. 5 Tomas Berdych is sitting out for the Czechs, while Japanese rising star Kei Nishikori, ranked 18th, is also sidelined with a groin injury.

The former Czechoslovakia beat Japan in 1935 and the Japanese topped the Czechs in their first-ever clash way back in 1930.

This weekend's winner will face the France-Germany victor in the semifinals in September.