BRATISLAVA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC: Slovak tennis has not had much to shout about since the country’s men reached the Davis Cup final in 2005. But Dominika Cibulkova has the perfect chance this weekend to celebrate her run to the Australian Open final by spearheading the Slovak Republic’s challenge in the 2014 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas in the country’s capital, Bratislava.
Cibulkova opens the first round tie against Germany against Andrea Petkovic in what will be her first match since playing Li Na in the Australian Open final 13 days ago.
"It was so nice," Cibulkova said of her homecoming. "All the people here were a little crazy, my final was all round the country, the people compared it to when the guys won the hockey world cup 10 years ago. It was really nice how they welcomed me home, it was such a great experience, and I know tickets for this tie were sold out three days ago, so it’s a big thing."
The diminutive world No. 13 admits that she had more than her usual share of media commitments last week, but has been back to full practice this week. And she will need to be back to her Melbourne form, as Petkovic posted two wins at the Paris indoor tournament last week and has her own strong motivation for wanting Germany to do well this weekend.
If Slovakia has the momentum of Cibulkova’s form in Australia and the durability of the 31-year-old Daniela Hantuchova, Germany feels it ought to have more momentum than it has. It has its best generation of female players since the era of Steffi Graf and Anke Huber, with Petkovic, Angelique Kerber, Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges and the evergreen doubles specialist Anna-Lene Groenefeld all making it to the world’s top 20.
"We should definitely have done more," says Petkovic, whose run to the top ten in 2011 was the start of the current German boom. "That’s the trouble with us – each year we feel we have to win the Fed Cup because we have such a great team.
"But we had a little injury trouble – I was injured for two years, others have been injured too, then we had tough draws, we lost some matches 3-2, one singles we lost 9-7 third set. It was a big struggle for us because we feel the pressure and we feel everyone expecting us to win with such a great team.
"And we want to win, that’s what keeps us pushing forward and pushing through all these defeats. We feel we have the potential to win the Fed Cup one day and that’s definitely our goal. We just don’t know if we can do it this year, or next year, or in five years, but we keep working on it."
Germany’s captain Barbara Rittner suffered the withdrawal through injury of the Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki, but that hardly seems to have weakened her team, as the vastly experienced Groenefeld comes in for the doubles. She is nominated to partner Goerges, but having played with six different partners in her 13 Fed Cup doubles matches – including Goerges in two dead rubbers – she could play alongside any of her team-mates.
Slovakia’s captain Matej Liptak has given a strong hint that he won’t play Hantuchova in all three matches. Having nominated her for singles against the world No 9 Angelique Kerber on the opening day, she is automatically nominated for the second reverse singles, but Liptak is clearly considering the option of bringing in an alternative for the fourth rubber, especially if the doubles looks like being decisive.
With the winners due to play Australia or Russia in the semifinals, both teams are optimistic, and Petkovic thinks this weekend could be a big key to the whole year. ‘I think this tie is so interesting,’ she says, ‘a real 50:50, and I have a feeling that whoever comes through has pretty good chances to reach the final or go further. I think this is a tie that will decide the on-going year.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v Andrea Petkovic (GER)
R2: Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Angelique Kerber (GER)
R3: Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v Angelique Kerber (GER)
R4: Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Andrea Petkovic (GER)
R5: Daniela Hantuchova/Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) v Julia Goerges/Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER)
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - 07/02/2014
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - 07/02/2014
Angelique Kerber (GER) - 07/02/2014
Andrea Petkovic (GER) - 07/02/2014