As a new year of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas begins, old rivalries are renewed, but in Bratislava a new rivalry is beginning. Slovak Republic faces a depleted China team for the first time in the history of Fed Cup. None of the players have ever played each other before, and in fact two of the Chinese team have never even represented their country before.
Slovak Republic boasts Fed Cup stalwarts Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova among their team. The duo has a wealth of experience with over 30 Fed Cup appearances between them and both of them have tasted success for their country. Hantuchova was a member of the Slovak team that won Fed Cup in 2002, while Cibulkova joined forces with Dominik Hrbaty to claim the 2009 Hopman Cup.
Unfamiliar faces in Chinese team
China on the other hand brings two Fed Cup debutantes, Xinyun Han and Jing-Jing Lu, to the Sibamac Arena alongside a player who has yet to win a rubber. The combined rankings of Slovak Republic’s top three players are less than China’s No. 1.
“They are young but we will try our best. I will ask every player to perform well in every match no matter the score,” explained China’s team captain Zhong Fu.
Just over a week ago China was the favourite, with two players in the last four of the Australian Open. However with Jie Zheng forced out with a thigh injury and Shuai Peng suffering from appendicitis, the Chinese team were forced to rethink their options and flew in Han, who was due to play next week's Pattaya Open, to be the crucial third member.
Han makes last minute appearance
“I heard on Wednesday that they needed me to come here so I got a Slovak visa and took a flight on Thursday to come here. They said I should come here, so I just changed my plan and came here. I am happy to play Fed Cup for the first time and I will do my best,” she said.
Debutante Han is playing here as China’s No. 2 player and will be up first when play gets underway on Saturday against Slovak’s No. 1 player Cibulkova. “She moves quick, I will just try to be patient and if I have a chance go for it,” said Han of her opponent.
Cibulkova, who has played Fed Cup since 2005, admitted to knowing little about her opponent. “I don’t know anything about Han so it’s going to be a little bit tough. I know she is a lefty and I saw her play at the Australian Open against Stosur and I thought she is a very talented young girl. It is going to be a tough match.”
Hantuchova looks for home advantage
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v Xinyun Han (CHN)
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Shuai Zhang (CHN)
Slovak’s No. 2 player Hantuchova, who is actually ranked higher than her compatriot in the latest rankings, will be looking to exact her revenge over China as it was one of their players, Na Li, who ended her run at the Australian Open. Hantuchova will be second on court tomorrow against China’s No. 1, Shuai Zhang, who is ranked 125 places below the Slovakian.
“I don’t have much information about her but we can’t underestimate our opponents. I haven’t played her before but obviously she is very talented.” Hantuchova explained. “In Fed Cup you never know what is going to happen, you have to fight for every point. I’m happy we’re playing at home in front of our crowd so hopefully it will be in our favour.”
Both singles players have been nominated as the doubles pairing, although if the tie goes to the form book, it may be very different players we see on court on Sunday afternoon.
Saturday - Play starts at 14:00 (13:00 GMT)
Sunday - Play starts at 13:00 (12:00 GMT)
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v Shuai Zhang (CHN)
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Xinyun Han (CHN)
Dominika Cibulkova / Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Xinyun Han / Shuai Zhang (CHN)