Rusty Federer posts Davis Cup win over Czech Stepanek

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PRAGUE, Sep 21 (Reuters) Roger Federer beat Radek Stepanek in four sets to give Switzerland a 1-0 lead over Czech Republic in their Davis Cup World Group playoff today.

The world number had not played since winning his fourth consecutive US Open title two weeks ago and was a bit rusty but he held on to beat Stepanek 6-3 6-2 6-7 7-6.

Federer conserves his energy these days for grand slams titles and the ATP Tour but comes to the rescue of the Swiss when they face dropping out of the Davis Cup top flight.

World number 34 Stepanek was himself returning to the Czech team after a three-year self-imposed exile.

The Czech may have wished he had waited a little longer as the Swiss with 12 grand slam titles gave the small contingent of travelling fans something to ring their cow bells for with nearly every point of the first three sets.

The rust started to show late in the third set, however, when Federer failed to convert a match point, allowing Stepanek to force a fourth set by winning the tiebreak 7-4.

''I made it more difficult for myself,'' Federer said. ''I played very well in the first three sets. It's a pity I couldn't serve it out.'' Stepanek saved five more match points in the fourth set tiebreak before netting a backhand to lose it 7-5.

By the end even the partisan home fans were showing their appreciation for another virtuoso performance by the 26-year-old Federer while Stepanek was left to rue a missed chance.

''I was hoping to push it to a fifth set, where anything could have happened. It's too bad,'' said the Czech.

REUTERS GT RK2303

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