Slovak Republic wasted little time in gaining a 2-0 lead against China on the opening day of their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas tie in Bratislava and are now on the brink of a place in the World Group Play-offs. Dominika Cibulkova overcame Xinyun Han 61 64 in one hour 25 minutes before her compatriot Daniela Hantuchova demolished Shuai Zhang 60 61 in 48 minutes to give the host nation the perfect start.
Strong start from Cibulkova
Cibulkova admitted to nerves ahead of the opening rubber owing to the expectations heaped on Slovakia following the depleted team that China had brought to the tie. She showed little of them on court however, dropping just three points on her serve in the opening set and dominating play. Fed Cup debutante Han struggled in the first set, committing two double faults in her opening service game and never really finding her form.
In the second set Han played better, claiming her opening service game and forcing Cibulkova into long baseline rallies. She improved her first serve percentage but despite her best efforts she just couldn’t get the better of the Slovak No. 1. Cibulkova broke Han in the third game of the second set and had points to break for 4-1 and 5-2 before serving out the match.
“I’m happy with my performance because I played well. From the first to the last point I was really focused and that was the key. It was a really, really important match for me because it was the opening match and we are the favourites in this tie so it was not easy but I’m happy with my performance and how I held the pressure,” said Cibulkova, who had an 84 per cent first serve percentage in the opening set. “My serve was great today, I served really well and I am glad for it. I was really fast on the court, doing the tactics my captain told me, being aggressive and moving her around.”
Hantuchova wasted hardly any energy in disposing of her opponent. The Slovak No. 2, who is ranked 125 places above Zhang, looked comfortable from the beginning, finding her rhythm easily and controlling the points to claim the first set in just 20 minutes. Zhang won the opening game of the second set but that was the first and only game she put on the scoreboard as the world No. 27 was just too good, wrapping things up on her second match point 60 61.
“Hantuchova played well today, especially her service is quite good so I couldn’t play well on her good service and I was controlled by her good play,” explained Zhang, who has yet to win a Fed Cup singles match. She will face Cibulkova in the first match tomorrow in an attempt to keep China’s hopes in this tie alive.
“I thought I played very solid tennis right from the start. I was very focused and played my game,” said Hantuchova, who also had an impressive first serve percentage, scoring 80 per cent in the second set. “The more I was getting confident in the match the better I served. I felt like I was returning well so I felt like I had no pressure on my serve.”
Slovak serve practise pays off
Serving was something Slovak captain Matej Liptak had worked on prior to the tie.
“All the week we practise on this (serving) too much, I knew that this can be very important in matches so I was working on this too much and I’m very happy that they used it very well,” explained Liptak, who also revealed that should Slovak Republic win the third rubber on Sunday he would change the remaining nominations.
With the form the Slovak girls showed on Saturday it would be hard to bet against them recording a 3-0 whitewash on the second day; however the pressure is firmly on the home team and China has nothing to lose.