Title holders the Czech Republic reached the semi-finals of the Davis Cup after clinically dispatching Japan in Saturday's doubles to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the tie. Radek Stepanek and Lukas Rosol beat Tatsuma Ito and Yasutaka Uchiyama 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in front of the Japanese emperor and empress in Tokyo as the two-time defending champions set up a clash with either France or Germany from September 12-14.
"The Japanese guys fought their hearts out but we had it pretty much under control," said Stepanek, who won the deciding rubber for the Czechs in the last two finals -- against Spain and Serbia respectively.
"The Davis Cup has an incredible history," added the 35-year-old, a toddler when Ivan Lendl propelled Czechoslovakia to the title in 1980.
"The emotions we experienced with our country and fans winning the competition were incredible. It's something you cannot buy."
Stepanek and Rosol, who both won their singles matches on Friday, bowed politely from the baseline after Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko took their seats behind them as they led by a set and 5-4.
They showed no mercy, however, Stepanek ripping a forehand which Uchiyama could only dump into the net to leave Japan two sets down and with a mountain to climb.
The Czechs completed victory when a Rosol bullet fizzed past Ito's racquet and landed flush on the baseline, sending them into their fifth semi-final in six years and rendering Sunday's reverse singles dead rubbers.
Japan's hopes of toppling the experienced Czechs had been severely dented by Kei Nishikori's withdrawal through injury, although the visitors were also missing Tomas Berydch, who opted not to play.
World number five Berdych recently called for the Davis Cup to be played "at least every two years" to preserve the competition's allure in an increasingly hectic tennis calendar. "I would like to play for the trophy every year," Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil told AFP after his team extended their win streak to 11 ties. "But top-10 players can be too tired after a grand slam semi-final and having to travel from country to country. You don't know when (they will decline to play)."
Japan coach Minoru Ueda offered a blunt assessment of his players after their first quarter-final appearance under the modern format had come to an abrupt end. "We simply weren't good enough," he said. "You always felt on the key points they were a cut above, they were world-class. I'm not sitting here thinking it's great we reached the last eight. We need to improve."
Stepanek's 6-7, 7-6, 6-1, 7-5 win over Ito and Rosol's hard-fought 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Taro Daniel in Friday's singles had given the Czechs a stranglehold on the tie before the doubles. "We had chances today," shrugged a dejected Ito. "But our opponents had that ability to change gears and convert chances when they come. We feel we belong at this level but that was the difference."