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19 April 2013

Slovaks turn to experience of Hantuchova


By Russell Fuller

Photo: Golovanov/KivrinMaria Kirilenko (RUS) and Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)

MOSCOW, RUSSIA: It is nearly 14 years since Daniela Hantuchova made her Fed Cup debut as a 16 year old, and it's that wealth of experience which has once again persuaded the Slovak Republic's captain to ignore the world rankings for this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal.

Hantuchova will play Saturday's second singles rubber against Maria Kirilenko of Russia, after Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Dominika Cibulkova have kicked off the tie.

Hantuchova made her debut here in Moscow, partnering Ludmila Cervanova to defeat in a tight dead doubles rubber in the World Group semifinal of 1999.

"I remember being so excited to be in the team," she said after Friday's draw. "I couldn't wait to get out on the court and play some competitive matches. It was one of the most wonderful experiences. A time I will never forget."

At 75 in the world rankings, she is 30 places below Magdalena Rybarikova, who will instead partner Jana Cepelova in the doubles. But the Slovak captain Matej Liptak thinks the rankings are irrelevant in Fed Cup ties.

"You need to have the experience, there is a lot of emotion. I know Daniela is a very experienced player and that's why I believe in her."

The Slovak Republic's top singles player is Dominika Cibulkova. The world No. 15 is delighted to report that she is feeling fit and healthy after what she describes as the most horrible experience of her career during January's quarterfinal in Serbia.

"It was the worst thing. I was winning 64 and 54 (against Vesna Dolonc, in the second singles rubber) and I just lay down as I was cramping, and I couldn't stand up. It was not nice, but in the end we won, so it was to our satisfaction."

This is the Slovak Republic's first semifinal since 2002 (the year of their one and only Fed Cup triumph), but with home advantage and the benefit of two players ranked inside the world's top 20, Russia will begin as favourites.

Even without Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova, they can boast the world No. 13 Maria Kirilenko, a recent semifinalist in Indian Wells, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who has just won her fourth career title in Monterrey.

The 21 year old has new coach Martina Hingis with her this week, and the Swiss would have been thrilled to hear how her new charge thrives on the pressure of Fed Cup weekends.

"I enjoy it, as I can challenge myself. I like to see what I am capable of. There's always pressure in tennis and sport in general, so it's good to see how you can handle it."

The challenge for Pavlyuchenkova and the rest this weekend comes in the form of an indoor red clay court at the Krylatskoye Sports Centre - a venue best known as Russia's main speed skating track.

This is the hosts' seventh consecutive semifinal appearance, although they have not won the title since 2008. And should it come down to a deciding doubles rubber early on Sunday evening, with a place in the Fed Cup final at stake, then Russia have a sound insurance policy.

Elena Vesnina and Ekatarina Makarova have won the Indian Wells title and reached the semifinals of the Australian Open already this year, and will be tough to beat in any decider. But goodness knows how much nervous energy will have been expended by both doubles pairs by then.

The full draw is listed below:

R1: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) v Dominka Cibulkova (SVK)
R2: Maria Kirilenko (RUS) v Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)

R3: Maria Kirlenko (RUS) v Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
R4: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) v Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
R5: Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS) v Magdalena Rybarikova/Jana Cepelova (SVK)

Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) - 19/04/13

Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - 19/04/13

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - 19/04/13

Maria Kirilenko (RUS) - 19/04/13

Captain Matej Liptak (SVK) - 19/04/13

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina (RUS) - 19/04/13

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    • Maria Kirilenko (RUS) and Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)Martina Hingis, coach of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
    • Elena Vesnina (RUS), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) and Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)Maria Kirilenko (RUS)
    • Team Slovak RepublicRussian Fed Cup team
    • Sports Center Krylatskoye, MoscowRussia v Slovak Republic

    3 : 2

    Sports Center Krylatskoye, Moscow, Russia

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