BRATISLAVA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC: The Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round tie between Slovak Republic and France is poised for a dramatic Sunday as the teams will go into the second day on level terms after French No. 2 Virginie Razzano put Les Bleus on the scoreboard as she dismantled the world No. 16 Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets 64 64.
Earlier, world No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova needed more than three hours to overcome determined resistance from French No. 1 Pauline Parmentier to take the match 57 61 97 and log her 30th Fed Cup triumph.
When the Slovak Fed Cup legend, Hantuchova, currently the team‘s No. 2 player, took the first game of this tie on her serve with ease and then with lightning speed capitalised on the first break point offered to her by world No. 62 Parmentier, many of the home fans in the stands were beaming with confidence.
However, these warm smiles started fading soon, as both players struggled mightily on their ensuing service games, trading breakpoints and errors as if they were hot sausages taken out of the oven.
In no time at all it was Hantuchova, having blown a comfortably looking 4-1 lead in the first set, who found herself in an awkward position needing to regain composure as she was facing multiple break points on all of her remaining service games.
Fighting bravely she may have been, but Hantuchova found it impossible to halt the pumped-up Parmentier, who broke the Slovak stalwart in the 11th game and surprisingly, given the beginning, closed out the opener in favour of the visitors 7-5.
The second set seemed to be following the same pattern with Hantuvhova jumping off to a 3-0 advantage. This time, however, she never looked back and stormed through the rest of the set, conceding just one game.
With an early break in the bag at the start of the third set and with hantuchova now firing on all cylinders, the home fans might have been thinking that Parmentier had finally reconciled herself to the inevitability of defeat. They couldn‘t have been more wrong.
The French No.1, who defeated Hantuchova the last time they met at the US Open in 2011, certainly had no intentions of surrendering and dug deep in her reservoire of fighting spirit. She broke the Slovak back and, at 5-4, found herself two points from a stunning victory.
Neverthelees, Hantuchova refused to be subdued, won four points in a row, and as both players pushed themselves to the limit and beyond she finally closed out the set 9-7, thus giving the almost sold-out Aegon Arena a good reason to jump for joy.
“You know, I guess this is when your experience matters most,“ said Hantuchova. “I never thought I might lose this one. I knew I had to focus on every point and get back step by step. I found my first serve again, won a few key points, she became a bit shaky and I took it.
“I am so glad I have just won my 30th rubber in front of the home crowd, the people were awesome and helped me a lot to get over the tough moments in the match. She is a tough player, her game does not suit me, it kind of reminds me of Patty Schneider, my old nemesis, but it is over, I have won and that is what counts.”
On the contrary Parmentier was in no mood to celebrate. “Well, I was not thinking about the score, I just wanted to focus on my game,“ she said. “Later at 6-6 I thought we would be playing a tiebreak, so I lost my focus, and then when Daniela broke me I missed three shots. What can I say? I am disappointed because it was a very good match for me. Nevertheless, it is just one rubber and we will keep fighting.”
Faced with the daunting task of levelling the tie, Virginie Razzano, the French No. 2, didn‘t waste any time as she produced a performance reminiscent of her prime against Cibulkova, sending the vociferous visiting crowd into raptures with her 64 64 win.
“I have not seen her play so well for a very long time,“ said Cibulkova. “We met at the Australian Open where I won, but it was a different match. Today I was not patient enough and often played some points hastily. I was also struggling a bit on my backhand returns, so I guess I will have to play better on Sunday. But I am saying again she played really well.”
Nicolas Escude could not agree more. “Well, I believe we saw two great matches here, high level,“ said the French captain. “Pauline showed me that she is a fighter, but Daniela was just better. Virginie played a great match. She started well, she was putting a lot of presure on Cibulkova and she managed to keep that pressure. That was the key.”
Escude’s opposite number, Matej Liptak also paid compliments to both victors. “I am so glad and happy that Daniela kept fighting even in tough moments,“ said the Slovak captain. “In the second set she found the right strategy, later may have become a bit complacent in the third, but luckily for us she got back on track aand proved that she is a great fighter.
“Well as for Razzano, she played really well, and apparently did her homework when she prepared the strategy. We were trying to come up with a different match plan as the match was continuing, but I guess she always found the right answer.”
Commenting on the health status of his girls, Liptak admitted that both of them might have some issues to deal with. “You know Daniela has been struggling with her shouder for weeks and everybody knows about it, but she played through it in Australia, and as for Dominika, she did look a bit fatigued to me, but I believe that even if there was some problem we will be able to figure it out,“ he added.
To figure it out is what the Slovaks will have to do if they want to avoid a third Fed cup home defeat in a row. In 2011, they suffered relegation from the World Group after successive 3-2 home losses at the hands of Czech Republic and Serbia.
What promises to be a big day on Sunday is scheduled to begin with Cibulkova against Parmentier, followed by Hantuchova versus Razzano. The nominated doubles pairs are Cibulkova and Hantuchova for SlovakRepublic and Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic for France, although the captains could decide to make changes if the fifth rubber is live.
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Pauline Parmentier (FRA) - 02/04/2012
Virginie Razzano (FRA) - 04/02/2012