Serbia and Slovak Republic are tied 1-1 after the opening day of their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off, with home crowd favourite Jelena Jankovic beating Magdalena Rybarikova 76 63 to put the Serbians ahead before Daniela Hantuchova overpowered teenager Bojana Jovanovsk 62 62 in 1 hour 20 minutes to redress the balance.
While Jovanovski was always going to struggle against a stronger and more experienced opponent in the second singles rubber, Jankovic had to battle through a painful wrist injury to keep alive Serbia’s hopes of staying in the top tier.
Jankovic survives see-saw first rubber
World No. 7 Jankovic raced to a 3-0 lead in the opening set after breaking serve twice but the injury to her left wrist, hampering her double-handed backhand, started to affect her and Rybarikova took full advantage to get back into the match.
The tall Slovakian broke Jankovic’s serve twice to tie the opening set at 4-4, held her own to take a 5-4 lead and then squandered a set point on Jankovic’s serve.
The rollercoaster went into an equally nerve-wracking tiebreak, with Jankovic coming back from 2-0 down to win it 7-5 with a superb forehand return down the line – apparently galvanised by a close call from the umpire that went against her when she fell two points behind.
Games went with serve in the second set before Jankovic broke Rybarikova in the sixth to take a 4-2 lead and then held comfortably to seal the match in 1 hour 42 minutes, having hit nine backhand winners to her rival’s two.
Wrist injury aggravating Jankovic
Rybarikova had seven aces to Jankovic’s none, but the Serbian hit five service winners and most of them came at crucial points in the match.
“I had to put up with pain throughout the match and I was able to win it because I stayed mentally strong after she came back in the first set,” Jankovic told reporters at a post-match press conference.
“My game is not 100 percent because I hadn’t trained for a week and took two days to get to Belgrade from the United States because of the travel chaos, but the most important thing is that I put the first point on the board for Serbia and I hope I will be able to raise my game on Sunday,” she said.
Hantuchova sails past Serbian debutante
Jovanovski made a bright start on her debut for Serbia, taking a 1-0 lead and earning thee break points on Hantuchova’s serve, but then succumbed to stage fright and from there on it was mostly a downhill ride and a learning experience for the 18 year old.
Hantuchova regained her composure after holding her opening serve and although Jovanovski at times lit up the Belgrade Arena with sparkling winners, she could not stop the world No. 23 from setting up a mouth-watering second day on Sunday, when she meets Jankovic in the opening singles before Jovanovski plays Rybarikova.
Jankovic and Ana Jovanovic are due to play Hantuchova and Rybarikova in the potentially decisive doubles.
“I am happy with the outcome of the opening day, it is what we expected,” Serbia team captain Dejan Vranes told reporters. “I am not at all disappointed by Jovanovski’s defeat because she was up against a top quality player and showed that she has got great potential,” he said.
> Slovak Tennis Association