BRATISLAVA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC: Host Slovak Republic faces an uphill battle to keep its 2011 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas dream alive after Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova failed to withstand the onslaught of their left-handed Czech rivals on Saturday. Having lost a closely fought first set, Hantuchova wilted against Lucie Safarova, while Cibulkova fought gamely but could not dent the in-form Petra Kvitova.
Initially, though, the World Group first round contest played out as expected, with little separating the statuesque Hantuchova and Safarova as they slugged it out for 5-5.
But while Hantuchova had started promisingly with an ace, and used her delivery to get out of several flash points, she didn’t capitalize on a 15-30 opening with Safarova serving at 4-5. Given the 27-year-old would not hold a single break point for the entire match, it proved to be a costly miss – not least because a rare double fault gave Safarova a critical break in the next game.
With the first set in the bag, Safarova’s confidence only grew. Although Hantuchova held serve in the first game of the second set, it was a temporary reprieve: Safarova embarked on a three-break, six game streak, producing a line-splitting cross court forehand to seal the match 75 61.
“It was very close in the beginning, but when I won the first set it pumped me up even more, and I was concentrating on each point,” said Safarova, who across the match connected with 15 forehand winners compared to Hantuchova’s two. “Now I’m looking forward to my match tomorrow and doing my best again.”
For her part, Hantuchova was hurt by 28 unforced errors, and later conceded lack of match play was an issue. She also said playing at home can be a double-edged sword.
“It was tough to find my way into the match,” said the 27-year-old, who is two places below Safarova in the rankings this week, at No.32. “Overall she played a very aggressive game from the start till the end, and didn’t have any bad moments.
“I didn’t feel that good, that confident on the court yet,” she added. “That’s not an excuse, I went out there to try my best, but it just didn’t work today. When you’re playing well, playing at home can give you a real boost, but if you’re a bit nervous, it can make things tricky.
“Petra’s going to be even tougher tomorrow. She had a great run in Australia and she’s full of confidence.”
Indeed, buoyed by her team mate’s exploits, Czech No.1 Kvitova hit the ground running against Cibulkova, breaking the diminutive Slovak in the first game and racing to a 4-0 lead.
While that proved too much to recover in terms of the first set, Cibulkova dug deep to keep things level on serve until 3-3 in the second. However, world No.18 Kvitova stepped on the accelerator to break twice more. Like Safarova, she closed it out with a crisp forehand winner, 62 63.
“She played amazingly well,” said Cibulkova. “The crowd was great, and they helped me loosen up a bit, but I think my game really fits her because she can hit even harder. My return wasn’t really there, the balls were high and it was tough. I’m a little bit sad about today.”
“I made a great start, played very fast, and Dominika made some little mistakes,” said Kvitova, who faces Hantuchova in Sunday’s first reverse singles. “Yesterday Lucie and I were joking about 2-0, and we are very happy about it… but we didn’t really expect it. “
Despite the deficit, all may not be lost for the home side, though. While Hantuchova and Kvitova will be meeting for the first time, Cibulkova owns a 2-0 record against Safarova. That said, if it goes down to the doubles, the Czech duo of Kveta Peschke and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova will take to the court as favourites.