As the Chelsea players were put through their paces in Washington during last night’s training session, there was a familiar sporting face watching on, in the form of Czech tennis player Radek Stepanek.
Stepanek, along with his coach, Petr Korda, was invited along to watch the session by good friend and fellow countryman Petr Cech, as the Blues prepare for Sunday’s International Champions Cup semi-final against AC Milan.
Stepanek is in the US capital competing in the Citi Open, where he will play a men’s doubles semi-final with partner Mardy Fish later today, and having been knocked out of the singles competition on Thursday, the opportunity to watch Jose Mourinho’s side in action at close quarters was a welcome relief.
‘It was a tough loss for me but I’m using today to forget about it and there is no better place to be than with Chelsea, Petr and all the guys,’ he said. ‘I’m still in the semi-finals of the doubles so it’s been a nice change for me today being here.’
The two friends are in regular contact, but with both men competing at the top level of their respective sports, and frequently travelling around the world, catching up face-to-face can sometimes be difficult.
‘I think this is only the third time,’ acknowledges Stepanek. ‘Once was in LA in 2007, I remember that because I won the tournament there. Then we met in Moscow two or three years ago and now again here. I’m always excited when I can be around because I’m a great Chelsea supporter.’
While Stepanek, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2006, is currently flourishing in a doubles tournament, he has made his name in tennis on the singles circuit.
In terms of the demands, there are clearly many differences between individual and collective sports, and he admitted to feeling a hint of envy over Cech’s close bond with his team-mates.
‘I think the principles in the sports are the same, the basics are the same, but there are things in the matches that you can’t talk to many people in the world about; the feelings and the pressure,’ he explained.
‘The only thing I’m jealous of Petr about is he is in a team sport. I love to play in a team and when I see all the guys hanging out together, they are winning and losing together, so that’s one thing I miss in tennis. I enjoy my moments in the David Cup when I can play for a few weeks in a team.
A day which began with the two going head-to-head on the tennis court ended with Stepanek trying to get the better of the Blues goalkeeper from the penalty spot.
A valiant effort saw him beat his friend twice, as well as hitting the bar with one strike, and though he was full of praise for Cech’s efforts with a racket, Stepanek is already looking forward to the next penalty contest.
‘This morning when we hit, when I saw his forehand he was getting up the rankings,’ he said. ‘I brought my coach into the game, he was giving him some lessons and he was playing very well. He’s learning very quickly and I was impressed, but I want to get better [at penalties] and hopefully I will score five out of five next time.’