NIS, SERBIA: Slovakia booked a Fed Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal date with Russia after Daniela Hantuchova defeated Vesna Dolonc 63 62 and Jana Cepelova outlasted Bojana Jovanovski 57 75 119 on Sunday to give the competition’s winners from 2002 an unassailable 3-1 lead against hosts Serbia and make the doubles a dead rubber.
The Slovakian team earned their victory in the face of adversity, as 19-year old Cepelova stepped in for the injured Dominika Cibulkova and emerged as the team’s hero with a rollercoaster win over Jovanovski in 3 hours 18 minutes of absorbing tennis.
Dolonc, who redressed the balance for Serbia on Saturday after Slovakia’s top-ranked player and World No. 15 Cibulkova retired with severe cramps shortly after she served for the match, enjoyed no such fortune against Hantuchova who produced an excellent performance to seal the tie and send her country into the last four.
After Saturday’s results, the delicately balanced tie was always going to hang on the outcome of Jovanovski’s encounter with Cepelova and, after the Serb won the first set, it seemed the home team would nose ahead and move closer to their second victory in five meetings between the two sides.
But Cepelova, playing only her second Fed Cup singles rubber, dug deep into her resources and engineered a spirited comeback.
Having won the second set in pretty much the same way as Jovanovski clinched the first, she overturned a huge deficit in the third when her better-ranked opponent served and was one point away from taking what would have been a commanding 5-2 lead.
World No. 39 Jovanovski, who arrived in Nis nursing a lower back injury and said after the defeat she would pull out of upcoming WTA events in Doha and Dubai to recover, struggled to hold her serve throughout the contest but held the upper hand thanks to a great fighting spirit and effervescent defending on Cepelova’s serve.
The home crowd favourite unleashed 18 backhand winners but also committed 79 unforced errors against the athletic and tireless Cepelova, who rifled in 32 forehand winners and was mobbed by her team led by captain Matej Liptak after silencing the vociferous Serb crowd.
“It was a very emotional match for me, we both fought hard and I came out on top after hanging in there when she appeared to be closer to the finish line,” Cepelova said after the match.
Jovanovski praised her opponent and also stressed she was hampered by pain which affected her game. “I couldn’t serve properly all afternoon and the problem in my lower back only got worse after Saturday’s match with Cibulkova,” she said.
“The Slovaks knew all that and Cepelova duly took advantage with plenty of sliced shots and long rallies which forced me to bend forward too many times, but credit to her because she played really well and turned the match around when I thought I had it by the scruff of the neck.”
The Russian-born Dolonc, who made her Fed Cup debut in her father’s hometown against Cibulkova on Saturday, was overpowered by Hantuchova who led Slovakia to the 2002 triumph when she dwelled at giddy heights as a top 10 player in the WTA rankings.
Now the world No. 58, Hantuchova showed glimpses of past glory against the battling Dolonc and took the opening set in 36 minutes after she conjured 10 winners and won seven of eight points at the net.
Cheered by a partisan home crowd in the Cair Hall, world No. 92 Dolonc chased every stinging baseline scorcher Hantuchova threw at her and displayed the potential to move up the rankings with occasional flashes of brilliance.
A drive volley down the line which tied the score at 2-2 in the second set drew wild cheers from the home fans but a drop shot followed by an ace epitomised Hantuchova’s vast experience as the 29-year-old stalwart pushed on relentlessly to tighten her grip on the match.
She broke her opponent’s serve to take a 4-2 lead and wasted no time in closing out the palpably one-sided contest in 1 hour 16 minutes to spark rapturous celebrations in the Slovakian camp.
Slovak Republic gave a walkover in the dead doubles rubber, meaning the final score in the tie is 3-2.
To view match statistics, click here: Live scores
Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) - 10/02/2013
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - 10/02/2013
Captain Dejan Vranes (SRB) - 10/02/2013
Jana Cepelova (SVK) - 10/02/2013