Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek celebrates after defeating Serbia's Dusan Lajovic during their Davis Cup World Group final match in Belgrade. (Reuters photo)
The Czech Republic retained their Davis Cup title after Radek Stepanek ruthlessly exploited the inexperience of Dusan Lajovic in the decisive rubber to seal a 3-2 final victory over Novak Djokovic’s Serbia on Sunday.
The Czechs, who became the first nation to retain the Davis Cup since Spain in 2009, lifted the trophy after Stepanek’s 6-3 6-1 6-1 victory amid wild cheers in the Kombank Arena.
Djokovic ensured the final went to the wire by beating Tomas Berdych 6-4 7-6(5) 6-2 to level the tie at 2-2 but there was to be no repeat of Serbia’s epic 3-2 final victory over France three years ago.
The world number two did not have the right support cast this time with Janko Tipsarevic sidelined due to a foot injury and Viktor Troicki banned for missing a blood test in April.
The 117th-ranked Lajovic was thrown into the fray and had 17,000 noisy fans on their feet after he broke Stepanek, a former top-10 player now ranked 44th, in the opening game. But that turned out to be the high point for the 23-year-old as his opponent highlighted the gulf in class between the two players.
“The match was the same (as last year’s final), under the biggest possible pressure that can be,” Stepanek, who beat Spain’s Nicolas Almagro in the decisive rubber 12 months ago, said. “Of course, it is more difficult to defend the title, but I think we used the experience from last year and we earned it.”
The result focused attention on the decision to leave Djokovic out of Saturday’s doubles, which the Czechs won in straight sets, as well as naming Lajovic for the final singles instead of the more experienced Ilija Bozoljac.