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Tennis: Czechs close in on successful Davis Cup defence

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Czech Republic got within a point of defending the Davis Cup title as Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek beat Serbia's Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic in Saturday's doubles in Belgrade.

Berdych and Stepanek won the 14th of their 15 Davis Cup doubles rubbers together as they swept the hosts 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) in two hours and 12 minutes to give the Czechs a 2-1 lead over 2010 champions Serbia.

In Sunday's reverse singles, world number two Novak Djokovic will first take on Berdych and Stepanek will then face Dusan Lajovic, world number 117 who has replaced the injured 36th-ranked Janko Tipsarevic.

The Czechs dominated the doubles rubber, being a more compact team from the start.

The 28-year-old Berdych served and returned well throughout while the 34-year-old Stepanek -- the world number nine for doubles -- gave yet another spotless display at the net, delivering stunning volleys.

The two Czechs, who only play together in the Davis Cup, allowed just a single break point in the whole rubber midway through the third set.

The 37-year-old Zimonjic, world number 14 for doubles, received the Davis Cup Award of Excellence before the match, but he showed only hints of his talent to the frantic home crowd.

Zimonjic lost the very first serve of the rubber and when Bozoljac, who is 28, followed suit in the seventh game, the Czechs won the first set 6-2 in just 30 minutes.

They took 40 minutes to win the second set -- Zimonjic kept struggling with his serve, lost his first one again and that was all the Czechs needed to win 6-4.

The third set was the tightest as the Czechs cooled off a bit while the Serbian pair showed the blend of skills that took them past the Bryan brothers in the Davis Cup quarter-finals in April.

Both pairs held on to their serves until a tiebreak in which the Czechs regained their dominance to win 7-6 (7/4).

On Friday, Djokovic, the world number two and recently-crowned ATP World Tour Finals champion, beat Stepanek, 7-5, 6-1, 6-4.

Seventh-ranked Berdych then put the Czechs level with a three-set win over Lajovic -- 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 -- on the hardcourt at the sold-out Belgrade Arena which sits more than 15,000 people.

Besides Tipsarevic, Serbia are missing 76th-ranked Viktor Troicki, out over a doping ban.

Playing their third final in five years, the Czechs in turn have an interim captain for this tie as Vladimir Safarik replaced Jaroslav Navratil who was hospitalised with a pulmonary embolism.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131116/tennis-czechs-close-successful-davis-cup-defence