By Jason Hovet
PRAGUE (Reuters) - David Ferrer gave holders Spain a 1-0 lead over the Czech Republic in the Davis Cup final when he beat a determined but ultimately outplayed Radek Stepanek 6-3 6-4 6-4 on Friday.
Spain are targeting a fourth Davis Cup crown in five years, while the Czechs aim to become the first country in 22 years to win the men's and women's team titles in the same season.
Ferrer, coming off the best season of his career, was looking to get Spain on top early in the tie against a Czech team with the home crowd and a fast surface to their advantage.
"It wasn't a stroll by any means, it cost me a lot of effort. Above all it was hard for me to finish off the points," Ferrer told Spanish television.
The win takes some pressure off team mate Nicolas Almagro, who is facing the leading Czech player and world number six Tomas Berdych in the second match later on Friday.
Ferrer, Spain's top player in the absence of injured former world number one Rafa Nadal, traded points with Stepanek early on as the pair got used to the pace of the indoor hard court.
Stepanek struggled to impose himself despite the backing of the crowd and their drumbeats at the O2 Arena - the venue where the Czech women lifted the Fed Cup trophy two weeks ago.
He leveled the opener at 3-3 after saving seven break points in a marathon sixth game before world number five Ferrer held serve and then broke Stepanek to claim the first set.
The Spaniard looked ready to cruise after that before Stepanek rallied in the middle of the second set to go 4-3 up.
But 30-year-old Ferrer won the next five games and survived a late rally from the 33-year-old Czech in the third set.
"I think I played pretty good attacking tennis (but) I played a better opponent. He deserved the match today," said Stepanek, who will likely join Berdych for Saturday's doubles.
The Czechs are aiming to avoid a repeat of their last clash with Spain in the final when they were crushed 5-0 on the clay courts of Barcelona in 2009.
The Czechs are aiming to win their first Davis Cup title since Czechoslovakia lifted the trophy in 1980.
(Additional reporting by Iain Rogers in Madrid; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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