The Czech Republic has retained the Davis Cup, with Radek Stepanek outclassing Serbian youngster Dusan Lajovic in the decisive fifth rubber in straight sets.
The 44th-ranked, 34-year-old Stepanek defeated the 23-year-old Lajovic, world No.117, 6-3 6-1 6-1 in under two hours, handing the Czechs an overall 3-2 win.
On the Belgrade Arena hardcourt, the Czech Republic, playing their third final in five years, scored a ninth straight victory in Davis Cup ties.
“I was under the biggest pressure that can be,” said a jubilant Stepanek. “We are one of only five teams that have defended the cup.”
“I want to say how proud I am to be with these lads. They are absolutely great; they deserved to win the trophy,” said interim Czech captain Vladimir Safarik, who replaced an ill Jaroslav Navratil.
His counterpart Bogdan Obradovic admitted his emotions were mixed as 2010 champions Serbia “tried to do our best” despite being weakened considerably.
Lajovic replaced 36th-ranked Janko Tipsarevic, out with a heel injury, and Serbia also missed 76th-ranked Viktor Troicki over a doping ban.
Lajovic, yet to win ATP-level match this year, started the decisive rubber in high spirits, breaking Stepanek’s first serve.
But the Czech veteran, betting on patience and changing the rhythm of his play at will, broke Lajovic’s next two serves to win the set.
Clad in his lucky blue t-shirt emblazoned with a lion design – which Andy Murray’s mother Judy described as “staggeringly bad” on Saturday – Stepanek raced to take the next two sets.
“I controlled the rubber except in the first game, and I played in the best form of my life the whole weekend,” said Stepanek.
Earlier, Serbia’s world No.2 Novak Djokovic forced the decisive rubber as he beat seventh-ranked Tomas Berdych 6-4 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 for his 24th victory in a row.
Propelled by a noisy home crowd, Djokovic relied on his serve, while Berdych tried to engage in long exchanges, combining a fast forehand with a wicked sliced backhand.
“It was very emotional. Both of us got into the match with a lot of pressure because of the importance of the game,” Djokovic said.
Berdych admitted Djokovic’s victory was deserved.
“I tried to hold on to him from the beginning to the end but it wasn’t enough,” he said.
“He’s in an excellent shape, he plays great tennis and moreover in front of such a crowd.”
In Friday’s singles, Djokovic beat Stepanek in straight sets, and Berdych downed Lajovic by the same margin.
On Saturday, Berdych and Stepanek won the 14th of their 15 Davis Cup doubles rubbers together, sweeping aside Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic in straight sets.
A year ago, the Czechs beat Spain 3-2 in Prague for their first triumph as an independent country with Stepanek again winning the decisive final rubber.
Former Czechoslovakia, which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, won the Cup in 1980.