LONDON (AP) — The Czech Republic closed in on its third Davis Cup final in five years by taking a 2-0 lead against Argentina on Friday while Milos Raonic saved a match point before winning a tense five-setter to put Canada level at 1-1 against Serbia in the other semifinal.
Stepanek swept aside Juan Monaco 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 before the fifth-ranked Berdych stretched the margin for the defending champion Czechs with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over hard-hitting Leonardo Mayer. Stepanek and Berdych can now secure a return to the final in Saturday's doubles, where they have a 12-1 record in Davis Cup play.
"We are 2-0 up, that's what we wanted. Now, the most important thing is to get ready for the doubles," Berdych said.
The other semifinal looks set to be more closely contested, despite top-ranked Novak Djokovic's dominant performance on Friday.
Djokovic bounced back from his loss to Rafael Nadal in Monday's U. S. Open final by routing Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 6-0, 6-4 to give Serbia a 1-0 lead in Belgrade. But in the best match of the day, Raonic served 34 aces to outlast Janko Tipsarevic 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 in a match lasting 4 hours, 11 minutes.
Raonic saved a match point when trailing 5-4 in the fifth set, and then used four aces in five points to finally serve out the match.
"It's great to come back from 2-1 down," Raonic said. "It's important to get through these types of things. I was serving really well and that kept me alive. It's down to business tomorrow and hopefully I'm fighting hard on Sunday."
Djokovic won 12 consecutive games midway through his match and dispatched the 41st-ranked Pospisil without facing a break point.
The Serb said he was still recovering from the change of time zones and jet leg after arriving in the Serbian capital on Wednesday.
"I'm glad the match was short," Djokovic said. "I've done really well considering I've had one, one-and-a-half practices since returning from the United States. I know I lack freshness in my legs."
Nadal also made an impressive return to the court following the short turnaround.
In Spain's World Group playoffs against Ukraine, Nadal overwhelmed Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-0, 6-0, 6-4 on outdoor clay to put Spain 2-0 up going into the doubles. Fernando Verdasco beat Alexandr Dolgopolov 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening match.
Nadal is playing in his first Davis Cup match since the 2011 final, in part because of a seven-month layoff due to a knee injury, but said he felt fine returning to his preferred clay after the hard courts in New York.
"I only had a short time to get used to clay gain, a surface I love," he said. "Changing surfaces quickly is not the best thing for your legs."