PRAGUE (AP) — With his confidence boosted by a U.S. Open doubles title, Radek Stepanek will play the opening singles match for defending champion Czech Republic against Juan Monaco of Argentina in the Davis Cup semifinals.
For the 34-year-old veteran who recently won his second Grand Slam doubles title, it is his first singles match in the Davis Cup this year.
Stepanek is a key player on the Czech team but missed the first round victory at Switzerland because of a neck operation and was able to play only the doubles in the 3-1 quarterfinal win at Kazakhstan.
Stepanek and Berdych played all five matches in last year's final in Prague, beating Spain 3-2 with Stepanek clinching the country's first title as an independent nation with a 6-4, 7-6 (0), 3-6, 6-3 victory over Nicolas Almagro in the last reverse singles.
"I'm ready for the match," Stepanek said Thursday.
Stepanek is 4-2 against Monaco, who is the highest ranked Argentine at No. 30. He beat Monaco 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-2 in the 2009 Davis Cup quarterfinals, also at home on a fast court in Ostrava.
"He's great at the baseline. I will try to use the surface and my game to eliminate his game," Stepanek said.
As in the final against Spain, the Czechs elected to play the series on their favorite fast surface to counter Argentina's clay-court specialists.
With Juan Martin del Potro out for Argentina, the draw also pits No. 5-ranked Tomas Berdych against Leonardo Mayer. In Saturday's doubles, the Czech pair of Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely will face Carlos Berlocq and Horacio Zeballos. Reverse singles are scheduled for Sunday.
"Leo's in very good shape," Argentina captain Martin Jaite said. "We're sure Leo will play very well on Friday. Leo's the best option for us."
The winner of the best-of-five series will face either Serbia or Canada in the final in November.