By Craig Gabriel
Czechoslovakia as it was then known had enjoyed a steady history of players reaching the highest levels of international tennis, but it was not until 1986 that the nation really became a talking point in the sport when the Fed Cup was played in Prague for the first time.
While that was historic in itself, it was the fact that Martina Navratilova was returning to her homeland for the first time since her defection to the United States. It was a massive event politically because the on-court announcer was not allowed to even mention her name.
There was an eerie feeling being in a place where foreign currency was exchanged in the front seat of a taxi and one always had the sense of being viewed suspiciously.
Above the tennis club that was used to stage the tournament there were train tracks, and locomotives heading to East Berlin would slow down and passengers would hang out of the windows and doors to get a glimpse of what was happening. It was like being in a different world.
Additional news that week related to Grand Slam winner Hana Mandlikova who secretly got married at the City Hall in the old town centre.
Fast forward 26 years and that same City Hall was used for the draw for the final of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas between the Czech Republic and Serbia, and while things are more commercial in the Prague of today, with the introduction of all the luxury brands as well as the fast food chains, little has really changed in a city that remains one of the most beautiful in the world.
Stepanek spotted in practice
By Ed Pearson
Czech Davis Cup player Radek Stepanek was seen practicing at the O2 Arena on Sunday morning.
No doubt looking to get his eye in on the indoor hard court that will be used to stage the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final in less than two weeks' time, it also proved a good opportunity for the 33-year-old to get some match practice in ahead of next week's ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Stepanek, who has won three doubles titles this year including the Australian Open, will be competing in the ATP's year-end event in the British capital alongside regular partner Leander Paes, which kicks off on Monday.
Stepanek was forced to withdraw from the Masters-1000 event in Paris last week with a hamstring injury so it will be a relief to Czech fans that the veteran Davis Cupper is back in action so soon.
The making of stars
By Emily Forder-White
Just like winning Davis Cup inspired Novak Djokovic to even greater things in tennis, this week is undoubtedly going to be the making of Lucie Safarova.
Playing in front her predecessor, the legendary Czech player Jana Novotna who comes from the same town as her, Brno, the young world No. 17 displayed a masterclass in Top 10 tennis and deservedly became a star in her own right. It was the first time she’d clinched the deciding point in any of her eight years playing Fed Cup.
So often has Davis and Fed Cup brought the best out of a player. It’s a competition that strips away any self-consciousness without any debate or choice about it and churns out one hero after another. It can be the making or breaking of a player but personal victories like this one can be talked about for years.
As the memories came flooding back for an all-singing all-dancing Novotna, who so many times had been the lynchpin of her team, so were the hundreds of fans and media within the O2 Arena witnessing a new era for Czech tennis.
Finally now the Czech girls can be spoken about in the same breath as the likes of Novotna, Martina Navratilova and Helena Sukova, who was also in the crowd to enjoy the memorable scenes.
And it may not be the end of the story just yet. In two weeks time the men’s team will be in the exact same stadium and they have a lot to live up to as they attempt to win their first Davis Cup title in 32 years. Can’t wait.
Trophies for all
They may be feeling a bit left out after watching the sensational scenes on TV, but Czech players Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova will also get the chance to have their very own Fed Cup replica trophy.
A tradition of the ITF since 1981 is that every player who has contributed to a team’s victory in Fed Cup throughout the year also receives a replica.
The two competed in Czech Republic’s first round tie: Benesova won the first rubber over Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, which set the Czechs on their way to a 3-0 victory, and Zahlavova played in the dead doubles rubber for which she will still be recognised even though it wasn’t a contributing point.