Barcelona, Spain :David Ferrer rallied for an improbable 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 8-6 victory over Radek Stepanek on Friday to give defending champion Spain a commanding 2-0 lead in the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic.
Earlier, Rafael Nadal relied on his usual dogged determination and timely shot-making to beat Tomas Berdych 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 in the first singles match.
Stepanek then looked set to even the best-of-five series after steamrolling Ferrer in the first two sets.
But Ferrer, playing his first match in a month after a hamstring injury, battled back in the 4 hour, 17 minute match and got the decisive break in the 13th game of the final set. He clinched it when Stepanek sent a shot long on match point.
"It was maybe the most important (win) of my career; it's the final of the Davis Cup," said Ferrer, who improved to 12-4 in five-set matches. "(But) it all depends on if we win."
Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco can clinch Spain's fourth title on Saturday with a doubles win over Lukas Dlouhy and Jan Hajek.
Three-time champion Spain, which hasn't lost at home in over a decade, is looking to become the first team since Sweden in 1998 to defend the trophy at the site where it won its first in 2000.
"Tomorrow we will have the first chance and Sunday two more," captain Albert Costa said. "We are in a good way but we must remain calm and concentrated."
The 12th-ranked Stepanek had 2,000 Czech fans at the Palau Sant Jordi roaring as he took nine straight games on his way to winning the first two sets.
But the near 16,000 Spanish fans came to life when Ferrer started finding his stride after a break in the third game, while Stepanek wilted behind his attacking game.
Stepanek, who caused his opponent many problems when coming to the net, hit 58 winners to Ferrer's 33. But he also hit 74 unforced errors.
"He started really well and I wasn't able to find my game. But when I won the third set I took confidence with me," said Ferrer, who made up for losing his singles match in last year's final win over Argentina.
Ferrer broke five times over the next two sets to even the match, but then wasted four early break points in the decider.
But Stepanek wasted 30-0 lead at 6-6 and then netted a drop shot for Ferrer to break.
"I attacked in every moment, looking to win every point," Stepanek said. "It was like a one-man show, I was the one creating, and mistakes you have to expect them."
Stepanek didn't rule out being back on the court on Saturday alongside Berdych in place of Dlouhy and Hajek. The Czech pair have a 5-0 doubles record and have clinched all nine live rubbers this year.
"You see me walking, breathing, talking, so I'm physically ready to play another match," the 31-year-old said. "I played even tougher matches so don't worry."
Returning to his favorite clay surface, Nadal gave the hosts the perfect start and certainly didn't look like the player who came in on the heels of a four-match winless run. Nadal won 13 straight games at one stretch for a fifth straight win over Berdych that improved his Davis Cup clay record to 11-0.
"After winning the first set everything changed," said Nadal, who missed last year's final against Argentina to injury. "I got up on him. I also managed to find my rhythm."
Nadal converted a decisive break point in the 11th game on his way to taking the tight first set, and Berdych was never in the match after that as his serve faltered and he finished with 40 unforced errors.
Berdych saved the first two break chances but netted a forehand - one of 23 unforced errors in the opening set - to give Nadal the game and the momentum.
"The big difference was that I had a couple of chances in the first set and I should have taken it. If I had, the match would have been completely different," Berdych said. "All credit to Rafa. The way he was playing after the first set was unbelievable."
Berdych's confidence dropped away as he could find no way to slow Nadal, who was charging down his opponent's crosscourt shots and ripping spectacular passing shots each time the Czech came forward. Nadal finished with 29 winners to 21 unforced errors.
Berdych's only complaint was an overturned line call that allowed Nadal to even it at 5-5 in the first proved crucial.
"It was good and on the line but the referee decided the other way," Berdych said.
"The ball was out by a centimeter and a half," Nadal countered. "What was key was the break" in the next game.
Spain has won 17 consecutive clay series and hasn't lost at home since 1999 - beating 19 opponents along the way. The visitors are looking for their first title since 1980, when it was Czechoslovakia.