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September 20, 2009

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Stepanek's marathon win powers Czechs

RADEK Stepanek withstood a world-record 78 aces and saved five match points against Ivo Karlovic in the longest Davis Cup singles in 20 years to help the Czech Republic lead Croatia 2-0 in the semifinals on Friday.

Stepanek won 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-7 (2), 16-14 in 5 hours, 59 minutes, then Tomas Berdych defeated US Open quarterfinalist Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 in a match which finished just after midnight in Porec.

Meanwhile, defending champion Spain cruised to 2-0 ahead of first-time semifinalist Israel in Torre Pacheco.

Even without its top three players -- Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Robredo -- Spain moved to the brink of its fifth final in 10 years after David Ferrer beat Harel Levy 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 and Juan Carlos Ferrero impressively downed Dudi Sela 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.

Stepanek and Karlovic played the fourth longest rubber in Davis Cup history. The 82 games equaled the Davis Cup record since tiebreakers were introduced in 1989.

The 2.09-meter Karlovic missed four match points in the final set. Stepanek broke for the first time since the first set in the 29th game, and won when the tallest player on tour sent a smash wide. His 78 aces obliterated both the men's world record by 23 and the Davis Cup record he shared with Gustavo Kuerten and Marc Rosset by 31.


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