NIS, SERBIA: Tennis matches often come down to survival of the fittest and Slovak Republic’s absorbing win over Serbia in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie showed in no uncertain terms that squad depth is just as important as individual brilliance in team events.
Few teams would have recovered from losing their top-ranked player in the middle of a tie.
Slovak Republic’s ability to bounce back from adversity, when World No. 15 Dominika Cibulkova was forced to retire against Vesna Dolonc when all she had to do is hold serve to win the match, will have boosted their confidence for the semifinal clash with Russia.
Daniela Hantuchova undoubtedly led the charge with a pair of emphatic wins in straight sets against Jovanovski and Dolonc, but it was 19-year-old Jana Cepelova who grabbed the headlines with a gutsy defeat of Jovanovski which traced the path to Slovakia’s victory.
“I am so delighted because we fought so hard for so long to stay in the top tier and we can now look forward to a brighter future after discovering that we have three good players capable of making a difference and not just two,” Slovakia team captain Matej Liptak told reporters after his team carved out an unassailable 3-1 lead on Sunday.
“Hantuchova was at her vintage best throughout the weekend but Cepelova deserves just as much credit and she repaid our faith in her handsomely. She showed that she is a real fighter determined to play her heart out till the bitter end for her country and this is such a valuable asset in the Fed Cup,” said Liptak.
The Slovaks are only too aware that an away tie at Russia will be a different prospect and one much tougher to negotiate than the visit to injury-hit Serbia, whose top-ranked players Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic pulled out with niggling injuries and left World No. 39 Jovanovski to carry her country’s effort.
“The Russians are a very strong team but so are we and I am really looking forward to the opportunity of reaching this season’s final, it would be a tremendous achievement and one that would make every one of us very proud,” said Hantuchova, who led Slovakia to their 2002 Fed Cup triumph as a teenager.
On top of Ivanovic and Jankovic being unavailable, Serbia also had to put up with having only a half-fit Jovanovski, after she failed to shake off a lower back injury sustained in last month’s Australian Open. While the 21-year-old would have in all likelihood been brushed away by the inspired Hantuchova even if she had been fully fit, playing through pain appeared to have had a telling effect in the crunch reverse singles against Cepelova.
Decimated to such an extent was more than Serbia could handle and Jovanovski barely held back the tears after a brave display in which she missed a myriad of chances to give Serbia a 2-1 lead on Sunday.
“I don’t want to make excuses but the pain got stronger as the tie wore on and it really affected my game,” she said. “I now have to pull out of WTA events in Doha and Dubai as a result but I have no regrets because playing for my country comes first and I am really gutted that I was unable to take at least one point form my two singles.”
Serbia, who were beaten by the Czech Republic in last year’s final, now face the daunting task of trying to avoid the drop from the World Group but their team captain Dejan Vranes tried to draw positives from the defeat by Slovakia.
“It’s really a pity we couldn’t do more after all the effort the girls had put in but we bowed out with our pride intact because they gave all they had and gelled together as a group in a very short period of time,” he said.
“We now face a difficult mission to try to stay in the World Group and I hope the team will get their reward for showing commendable fighting spirit against the Slovaks. I can only thank them for their efforts and hope that we will stay in the top tier to get another shot against the best teams.”