All square after Day 1 at Davis Cup
Updated: Saturday, 17 Nov 2012 15:03
Czech Republic and Spain ended the first day of the Davis Cup final level at 1-1 after Tomas Berdych defeated Nicolas Almagro in a five-set thriller to square the tie.
Twice the Spaniard fought back to level the match but it was not enough as Berdych proved just the stronger in the fifth to win 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-7 (7/5) 6-3.
It was a crucial point for the Czechs on home soil in Prague after world number five David Ferrer began the day by beating Radek Stepanek 6-3 6-4 6-4.
Spain, without the injured Rafael Nadal, are looking for a fourth title in five years and Berdych's victory was only the third rubber they have lost in four finals.
Czech Republic, meanwhile, are bidding for a rare Davis Cup and Fed Cup double after success for Petra Kvitova and co at the same venue, the O2 Arena, two weeks ago.
The country has never won the Davis Cup as Czech Republic while Czechoslovakia's only title came in 1980, and that team, including Andy Murray's coach Ivan Lendl, were among the crowd in Prague.
There is no love lost between Berdych and Almagro, who were involved in a spat at this year's Australian Open when Berdych accused Almagro of deliberately hitting him with the ball and refused to shake the Spaniard's hand.
Berdych also described Almagro as the weak link in Spain's team ahead of the tie, having won four of their five previous clashes this season, and he took the opening set with a break in the eighth game.
Almagro fought back to level but the momentum swung again at the start of the third as Berdych, against the run of play and fired up by a disagreement with umpire Carlos Ramos, won three games in a row.
It was not plain sailing for the world number six but he held on to win the set, and then made a potentially decisive move at the start of the fourth.
Now Berdych appeared in complete control but he donated a break back in the sixth game and there was no way back when he lost the first five points of the tie-break.
Almagro was the player pushing for a break at the start of the decider but Berdych held on, and the crowd were on their feet when the 27-year-old broke to lead 4-2.
Back came Almagro but Berdych made it three breaks in a row with a backhand planted onto the outside of the sideline and he took his first match point after three hours and 58 minutes when the Spaniard missed a return.
Berdych, who is expected to play in the doubles with Stepanek tomorrow, told Eurosport 2: "It's our first point and that's all. I'm extremely happy for that. We opened the channel for Sunday whatever happens tomorrow.
"I messed it up a little bit. I gave him too much advantage in the tie-break so I was looking forward to the fifth because with the crowd at my back it was an amazing feeling."
In the 2009 final Spain played the Czech Republic and won 5-0, with Ferrer fighting back from two sets down to defeat Stepanek, but it was a lot more straightforward this time despite the fast indoor surface seemingly favouring the home player.
Ferrer, 30, was in the ascendancy from the start and Stepanek needed all his fighting spirit to hold off his opponent in a sixth game that featured seven break points and lasted more than 20 minutes.
But in his next service game the 33-year-old Czech's resistance was broken as he threw in his fourth and fifth double faults of the set, which Ferrer duly took.
Stepanek retrieved an early break in the second set but there were no wobbles from Ferrer, who moved ahead again and was on the brink of victory at 5-2 in the decider.
Stepanek managed one last hurrah with a break back but Ferrer made no mistake when he served for victory for a second time, and the Spaniard felt things could not have gone any better.
He said: "I played very good all match, I'm very happy with my game. I won in three sets, it's perfect. But we haven't finished the tie, it's very long."