BRATISLAVA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC: The Slovak Republic team were taken by surprise when their opponents, Serbia, omitted their highest ranked player, Jelena Jankovic, from the line-up for the opening day singles in this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie in Bratislava.
That’s not to say the former world No. 1 won’t make an appearance in the reverse singles on Sunday, but Dejan Vranes, the Serbian captain, has certainly given the opposition something to think about.
It is unlikely that this is pure gamesmanship. Jankovic’s replacement, Bojana Jovanovski, is one of the game’s up-and-coming players as she proved in Serbia’s last match, in February, when in the absence of both Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic she embraced the added responsibility with open arms, contributing all three points in the 3-2 win against Canada.
It was nice timing because Jovanovski was presented with her Heart Award prior to the draw here following her performance in that World Group II tie, proudly holding aloft a cheque for $3,000 which is to be donated to victims of the Japanese earthquake.
The 19-year-old is scheduled to open the tie against the Slovak No. 1 Dominika Cibulkova - and confidently expects to win. They’ve never played each other before, only practised with one another. Ivanovic assumes the No. 1 role in Jankovic’s ‘absence’ and faces Daniela Hantuchova. They might just as well have never played each other since their last meeting was over three years ago, but Ivanovic leads 3-1 head-to-heads for what it’s worth.
“I said when the Serbian nomination was announced that they had a very strong team and that we weren’t talking about just two players, but three because I think Bojana has had a great year this year and is the same threat as the first two,” said Slovak captain Matej Liptak, although he admitted to being slightly taken aback by the selection. “I don’t know what the reason is – maybe it’s some injury, sickness – I don’t know - maybe tactics.”
The word is that Jankovic will make an appearance in the reverse singles, probably against Hantuchova, but it’s just speculation for now. It could prove to be a master stroke because these two teams are so evenly matched any extra rest one player might gain could be crucial. Jankovic wasn’t complaining. “For now I respect the captain’s decision,” she said. “The most important thing is that we support each other.”
The two countries met at the same stage last year, in Belgrade, when it was Slovak Republic who advanced to the World Group by virtue of winning the doubles and it could well come down to the fifth and final rubber again.
Cibulkova was absent through injury then, but plays now, although any advantage is offset by the return to Fed Cup tennis of Ivanovic, the former world No. 1, after 14 months away. Clay was the choice of surface in Belgrade and it is now so there’s no advantage for either side there also. After all, Ivanovic is a former French Open champion and Jankovic a three-time semifinalist at Roland Garros.
More importantly, from Serbia’s point of view, Ivanovic seems to be coming back to her best, if her recent form at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami is anything to go by. She went out there in the fourth round to world No. 2 Kim Clijsters – whom she regards as the “hardest player out there at the moment” - after holding five match points against her. No wonder she said she couldn’t sleep that night.
The motivation now is to emulate the success of Serbia’s men in the Davis Cup last year and with the emergence of Jovanovski the women are better placed to do this than probably they have ever been. This weekend’s tie couldn’t be more difficult, though.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v Bojana Jovanovski (SRB)
R2: Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Ana Ivanovic (SRB)
R3: Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v Ana Ivanovic (SRB)
R4: Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Bojana Jovanovski (SRB)
R5: Daniela Hantuchova / Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) v Jelena Jankovic / Aleksandra Krunic (SRB)
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - 15/04/2011
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - 15/04/2011
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - 15/04/2011
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) - 15/04/2011
Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) - 15/04/2011
Captain Matej Liptak (SVK) - 15/04/2011
Captain Dejan Vranes (SRB) - 15/04/2011