Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych did what was expected of them to leave Serbia and defending champions the Czech Republic tied 1-1 after the first day of the Davis Cup final.
Djokovic, the world No.2 and recently-crowned ATP World Tour Finals champion, first beat 44th-ranked veteran Radek Stepanek, 7-5 6-1 6-4, in two hours and 10 minutes.
Seventh-ranked Berdych then put the Czechs level with a three-set win over 117th-ranked Dusan Lajovic – 6-3 6-4 6-3 in an hour and 54 minutes.
In front of a frantic crowd in the sold-out Belgrade Arena sitting 15,500 people, Djokovic relied on a solid serve throughout the rubber.
He broke Stepanek’s serve in game six of the first set but then found himself under heavy pressure, allowing the 34-year-old Czech to win seven straight points and take the serve back.
Djokovic showed some frustration before breaking Stepanek again for a 7-5 first-set win.
He then embarked on a spree to take the second set 6-1, before finishing Stepanek off in the third with a single break.
“I am happy with the way I played. Of course I was nervous at the beginning but it was very important for us to win the first set and then I relaxed,” said Djokovic.
“I served well in the important moments.”
Stepanek said he would have been happier had he won the rubber, before praising Djokovic’s defence.
“I tried to dictate the pace, get him into difficult situations, but he got out of them,” Stepanek said.
“I gave him quite a lot of trouble in sets one and three. I failed to earn a point (by winning the rubber), but it was great tennis,” he added.
In the second rubber, the 23-year-old Lajovic offered some resistance, but Berdych controlled the clash, earning a break in each set.
“It was a tough one. It was the first time I’ve seen him on court,” said Berdych.
“The Serbian team was 1-0 up and he was playing in front of his home crowd. It’s not so tough physically but it’s much more difficult mentally to handle the situation.”
Lajovic, who has replaced 36th-ranked Janko Tipsarevic – ruled out with a heel injury – described the game as a useful lesson.
“The biggest thing was that I wasn’t holding my focus the whole match like he did and I think that is the biggest difference between me and top players,” he said.
“Players like Tomas won’t give you two chances if you don’t take the first one.”
In Saturday’s doubles, the Czechs are most likely to bet on Berdych and Stepanek, who have lost only one of their 14 Davis Cup doubles rubbers together since teaming up in 2007.
Serbia captain Bogdan Obradovic will choose among doubles specialists Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac, and also Djokovic who “didn’t spend that much energy that we expected against Stepanek”.
“When you have three players like that, it’s an easy job to pick up the two best prepared players,” he said.