Toronto, Canada – By Kevin Fylan
BARCELONA (Reuters) - David Ferrer beat marathon man Radek Stepanek at his own game to put Spain 2-0 up against Czech Republic in the Davis Cup final on Friday, after Rafa Nadal's timely return to form had given the hosts an ideal start.
Nadal, relishing a return to clay, brushed aside Tomas Berdych 7-5 6-0 6-2 to announce his return to form in the opening rubber of the best-of-five match at the indoor Palau Sant Jordi.
The Czechs seemed certain to level the tie as Stepanek set about dismantling the Ferrer serve in the opening two, hopelessly one-sided sets.
The Davis Cup has a habit of producing great comebacks, however, and feeding off the boisterous home support among the 16,200 capacity crowd Ferrer somehow contrived to take a 1-6 2-6 6-4 6-4 8-6 win before collapsing in joy and exhaustion.
"It was an important victory, sure, but we have to win the whole thing for me to be able to savor it."
Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil has named the unheralded Lukas Dlouhy and Jan Hajek as his doubles team to play Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco on Saturday but has the option of reverting to the regular Berdych-Stepanek partnership.
Stepanek, who won a six-hour match against Ivo Karlovic in the semi-finals 16-14 in the final set and he is available to try to keep the tie alive.
"You see me walking, talking and breathing so I think I'm ready to play," he said.
The Palau Sant Jordi was the scene of the first of Spain's three Davis Cup successes this decade and it would be a huge surprise now if they did not clinch their fourth.
Nadal set them on their way by edging the first set before taking the next two in irresistible style.
"After that first set I just started to play much better," Nadal said. "I was able to control the points a lot better and I wasn't making so many mistakes."
Stepanek had looked equally commanding in the opening two sets of the second match, ruthlessly picking off Ferrer's second serve and reeling off nine unanswered games after an exchange of breaks at the start of the match.
Ferrer hinted at a comeback when he took a 2-1 lead in the third and, after an almighty tussle, managed to consolidate.
Stepanek got the break back but soon succumbed again and Ferrer served out before emerging the stronger player for the fourth set.
He built a 5-2 lead before clinching it at the second attempt, with Stepanek starting to tire.
The Czech stayed with Ferrer in the decider but he handed the Spaniard a break with a drop shot into the bottom of the net and Ferrer gratefully took advantage.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)