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05 February 2012

Slovaks advance to World Group play-offs


MATCH REPORT

By 

  • Martin Sonoga

Photo: Roman BenickyTeam Slovak

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC: The Slovak singles players did their homework and secured a berth in the play-offs  for their country after Dominika Cibulkova defeated Pauline Parmentier 6463 before Daniela Hantuchova overcame the challenge of Alize Cornet, who replaced Virginie Razzano, in straight sets 64 64.

It was a few minutes shy of six o‘clock yesterday evening when the Slovak No.1, Cibulkova,  came to the official press conference looking rather dejected following her unexpected  straight sets defeat  at the hands of Virginie Razzano.

“I did not play well, was not patient enough. Never mind tomorrow is a new day and a different match, and I’ve got to put this one out of my head and play better.”

And a different day it was much to the joy of the home crowd that almost filled the venue to root for the much-beloved world number 16 in an all-important rubber.

Nevertheless it was Pauline Parmentier, entering this encounter as a slight underdog based on rankings, who drew first blood as she broke Cibulkova to love on her second service game of the opening set. Dominika kept her cool and immediately struck back returning the favour on the ensuing game.

Finally things started clicking for her and the Slovak showed everybody why she is ranked so highly, wearing down Parmentier`s resolve with solid groundstrokes from the comfort of the baseline. Not only did she drag the Frenchwoman from side to side, but also changed the rhythm of rallies using immaculate drop shots, and on a few occasions when she closed on the net her volleys left Parmentier in despair.

Jumping off to 15-40 on Parmentier´s serve in the tenth game very few of the faithful fans doubted the outcome of the opener. As a ferocious forehand from the French No. 1 sailed way out Dominika could clinch her fist and yell the well-known “Pome” having just bagged the set 64.

The second set followed roughly the same script. Cibulkova lost her first service game, but once again refocused to level at 2-2. As later Cibulkova admitted, the next few games proved to be crucial.

"I believe one of the key moments was when I held my serve to go 43 ahead, it was not easy, but I did it and immediately broke her in the next game. Like I said it was a completely different match, her game suits me better. I was also much better on my serve, was more active and aggressive all the time also on her serve and in the end reaped fruits of my effort.”

Having another break in the pocket she capitalised on the first match point to take the third rubber 64 63 and move the home team one step closer to the play-offs in April.

“Well Dominika played a really good match,” an apparently fatigued Parmentier reflected as she struggled to find the right words easily. “She was more aggressive, I guess also a bit pissed - in good way as she lost yesterday. Towards the end I started running low on energy,  you know it was tough match with Hantuchova, and I felt I had very little gas left.”

Hantuchova rounds off positive weekend

Standing on the brink of being eliminated out of contention the French captain, Nicolas Escude, opted for Alize Cornet ahead of Virginie Razzano in the fourth do-or-die rubber for his team. The 22-year old Cornet was knocking on the door of the Top 10 in February 2009, but since then her magic seems to have evaporated.

In recent years Fed Cup has not given her many more reasons for celebration since she can boast only a single victory, when she overcame an injured ankle and beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in Moscow last year. Reflecting on the change Cornet said that she had been informed about this option earlier this week, but the final confirmation came yesterday.

Although the Slovak No.2 and 2002 Fed Cup champion Hantuchova was the first one to drop a service game she managed to bounce back and grab the bull by the horns breaking Cornet again in the eighth game and later had no trouble to serve the set out.

“I got off to a slow start, as I had been expecting to play against Razzano, it took me a while to set my game plan up. Anyway I am glad I found the way to beat her and helped my country to advance to the play-offs,” beamed Hantuchova after the match.

The momentum was clearly on Hantuchova’s side and she duly did what was expected of her by taking Cornet`s opening service in the first game of the second set. Nevertheless the Nice-born player wanted to prove the validity of a famous cliché that says “it is not over until it is over” and put up a great fight with her back against the wall. Being 36 34 down Cornet suddenly found her old groove and broke Hantuchova back.

A few moments later the match was clearly reaching its climax and the fans in both camps were going mad increasing the decibels beyond a bearable level. Cornet was unable to hold her serve and in no time at all was facing the first match point.

Yet once again she refused to crumble under the weight of the moment, played two fabulous backhands that touched the line and suddenly it was her having break points on Hantuchova´s serve. Sadly for the French fans all in vain as Hantuchova was not going to let this one slip through her fingers finishing 6464.

“I think I played a pretty good match, I started well, but then at 3-3 Daniela brought her A-game,” said Cornet who was in a philosophical mood after the match. “I had been aggressive at the beginning, but later I do not know why I started playing behind the baseline, and she made me run all over the place. In the second set I played really well, got some chances, we played great points, but I made silly mistakes, missed some easy shots. Maybe if I had done better the result could have been different.”

The final doubles rubber gave the French team a chance to show their resolve as Razzano teamed with Kristina Mladenovic to see off Magdalena Rybarikova and Jana Cepelova 61 62 to leave the final score in the tie at 3-2 in Slovak Republic’s favour.

Captain Matej Liptak (SVK) - 05/02/2012

Captain Nicolas Escude (FRA) - 05/02/2012

Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - 05/02/2012

Alize Cornet (FRA) - 05/02/2012

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - 05/02/2012

Pauline Parmentier (FRA) - 05/02/2012

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    • Team SlovakNicolas Escude (FRA)
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