In any sport, the best teams are those that manage to adapt and then master hostile foreign conditions. So, ahead of Czech Republic’s Davis Cup World Group play-off against India at home, much talk centred around the heat and the energy-sapping humidity that awaited the No.1 side in the world.
Apart from stifling conditions there were another pressing issues, which needed immediate attention. Like food, accommodation and transportation and logistics. Even though it was a three-day day event, the Czech think-tank felt the players needed to arrive early to be at ease with the conditions on offer.
To set things in motion, nearly four weeks before Czech Republic’s arrival in Delhi, their team director Vladimir Safarik was in the national capital on a recce, to examine the facilities on offer. The Czech Republic team arrive in the capital five days before the event.
Here, the players had two sessions of practice everyday. A two-hour session in the morning, followed by another session in the afternoon. This was followed by proper warm-ups, recovery and pool sessions. They also spent considerable time studying their opponents’ styles and weaknesses by watching their matches on Youtube. All this did give the visitors some headway, but skeptics were not sure if this would be enough.
“We are thorough professionals and four days is enough time for us to get acclimatised to Delhi’s heat,” Radek Stepanek said during one such practice session.
However, Czech Republic did not start their campaign on an auspicious note. Jiri Vesely lost in straight sets to Somdev Devvarman to let India seize the initiative on Day 1. “I failed to cope with the hostile conditions today,” Jiri Vesely said on Friday. It was a candid admission from Czech Republic’s No.1 player. Losing to a player, who is ranked more than 100 places below, can puncture the ego of the best. In Delhi’s unforgiving heat, a lower-ranked opponent pushed him hard. Despite best efforts, he failed to gather any momentum nor gather that extra ounce of energy required to counter his opponent.
On the day of the reverse singles, all eyes were again on Jiri Vesely. An hour before the tie, he was seen warming up. He looked fresh. But the important question was whether he could last three hours in Delhi’s sun against an opponent who is a crowd favourite. Vesely had a daunting task ahead of him. Despite being in the top-50, he had not won a live Davis Cup rubber.
Armed with a powerful serve, Vesely took an early lead with a flurry of winners. Despite the heat and the unforgiving conditions, he retained his poise and committed only three unforced errors in the opening set. By the time he had won the first set 3-6, he was totally drenched. Unlike his previous game, however, the tall southpaw played with a purpose. He attacked Yuki’s backhand and kept him on the backfoot for the major part of the duel. After the second set, he continued to play in an aggressive fashion and sealed the deal in three sets.
After Friday’s low, he gave his team a high after clinching an unassailable 3-1 lead over hosts India, and a fitting place in the elite-16 nation World Cup.
The 22-year-old reckons he stuck to the basics and did the simple things right to turn the tide in his favour.
“The off-day (Saturday) really helped me freshen up for today’s game. The conditions today were no different from what they were on Friday. However, what worked in my favour today was the experience of playing my last match against Somdev. Also, Yuki was beginning to tire after the second set…so I realised that he would not able to sustain for five sets,” the Czech said.
On each of the three days in the Davis Cup, Czech Republic had a hero whom they could count on. On Friday, it was the experienced Lukas Rosol, who gave his team the early lead, while on Saturday, a relatively unknown Adam Pavlasek subdued Paes and Bopanna. Vesely then ended their campaign and redeemed himself.