In arguably the easiest tie of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas weekend, Slovak Republic saw off China in emphatic style, conceding just 11 games on its way to establishing an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Fed Cup stalwarts Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova once again answered their country’s call, stepping up to the mark to represent the host nation and see them safely through to the World Group Play-offs for the second consecutive year.
“I love the whole atmosphere, playing for my country is always a privilege,” said Hantuchova. “I’m very lucky it’s been already so many years and one of the most wonderful moments I ever had was winning it for my country in 2002.”
In fact, the top two Slovak players have both tasted victory for their country as Cibulkova won the 2009 Hopman Cup with Dominik Hrbaty.
“I just love the competition and one of my dreams is to win the Fed Cup one day because it’s just great,” explained Cibulkova. “I love the atmosphere, I love everything for the Fed Cup and I love to play for my country.”
Underdogs to favourites for Slovaks
In the space of a few days, the Slovaks went from being the underdogs to the overwhelming favourites as it was revealed that China was bringing a rather weak team to Bratislava, owing to injury and illness to its top players.
Fresh blood was called upon in terms of Fed Cup debutantes Xinyun Han and Jing-Jing Lu, while Shuai Zhang was keen to claim her first Fed Cup singles victory.
However, it wasn’t to be for China. Shuai Zhang lost both her singles matches, putting up a brave performance in the third rubber against Cibulkova, but losing heavily to Hantuchova on the opening day.
“Hantuchova played well, especially her service is quite good so I couldn’t play well on her good service and I was controlled by her good play,” admitted Shuai Zhang.
Han also lost her opening rubber, never really getting into the match and finding Cibulkova just too strong. She was able to post her first Fed Cup victory, however, when she defeated Kristina Kucova in the ‘dead’ singles rubber.
Han then combined with Lu to win the doubles rubber when Cibulkova and Kucova retired after the former sustained an Achilles tendon injury in the first set.
Slovak Republic could be force again
Slovak Republic will now battle to reclaim its place in the World Group, where it has been absent since 2004, and China will fight to stay in World Group II, less than two years after it was vying for a place in the World Group Final.
Changes are a foot, Slovak Republic seems to be on its way up, developing strength in depth - it currently has three players in the Top 50 - and players that are committed to the Fed Cup cause.
“We have a great team and I think we can beat anyone,” said Slovak captain Matej Liptak. “Our goal is to be in World Group but we want to be at home. I want France at home; I don’t want Serbia.”
China on the other hand is on a slippery slope and will face relegation to Asia/Oceania Zone Group I unless it can conjure up a better performance than it did this weekend.
“It’s very important that our best players will participate to keep us in the World Group,” admitted Chinese captain Zhong Fu.
Indeed, unless China’s best players answer their nations call in April, the curtain could fall on China’s place in the elite 16 nations of women’s tennis… for one year at least