September 18, 2009

Radek Stepanek overcame a record 78 aces to defeat Ivo Karlovic in one of the longest matches in tennis history as the Czech Republic took a 2-0 lead over Croatia in the Davis Cup semifinals on Friday.

Stepanek won 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-7 (2), 16-14 in a match that lasted 5 hours, 59 minutes. The longest known Davis Cup match was 6 hours, 22 minutes between John McEnroe and Mats Wilander in 1982. The 82 games equaled the Davis Cup record since tiebreakers were introduced in 1989.

In the second singles, Tomas Berdych beat U.S. Open quarterfinalist Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 to put the Czechs on the verge of reaching the final for the first time since they won it in 1980.

"I feel like I was in a 10-round boxing match," Karlovic said. "Everything hurts."

Karlovic wasted four match points in the final set. Stepanek won when the 2.09-meter (6-foot-10) Croat sent a smash wide. The were only five break-point chances in the match.

"I fought for my country," Stepanek said. "It was an amazing game."

This marathon equaled the number of games from a 1991 Americas Zone match when Richard Ashby of Barbados beat Jose Medrano of Bolivia.

Karlovic obliterated both the men's record and Davis Cup record for aces -- marks he held. He had 55 aces in a loss to Lleyton Hewitt at the French Open in May. His previous Davis Cup mark was 47 -- also shared by Gustavo Kuerten and Marc Rosset -- when he defeated American James Blake in the World Group quarterfinals in July.

"I did my best, but Stepanek was there all the way," Karlovic said. "After the loss, the serve record means little to me."

Croatia, the 2005 champion, has lost only once at home in its past 12 Davis Cup ties.

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