MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Two high class singles victories from Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova has put Slovak Republic just one win away from its first Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final in eleven years.
The aggression of Cibulkova coupled with the wily matchplay of Hantuchova - not to mention the enthusiastic support provided by their team bench and a boisterous bunch of travelling fans - mean that the Slovaks lead Russia by two rubbers to love after the opening day of this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal in Moscow.
"It's always such a pleasure to play in front of [the fans]," Hantuchova said, as she struggled to make herself heard above the din. "Even though I am the one on the court, we are playing as a team, and everyone on the bench is playing the match as well. We have an unbelievable captain (Matej Liptak), and it's just a pleasure to be playing."
Hantuchova had just notched up her 30th Fed Cup singles win, three days shy of her 30th birthday, and 14 years on from her debut in the competition. She was conceding 62 places in the world rankings to Maria Kirilenko in Saturday's second singles rubber, but looked far the more streetwise of the two. She threw in the odd moon ball and the occasional drop shot, and took the pace off the ball every now and again on a quick court with clever use of the backhand slice. She won the first set 62 and then, after Kirilenko claimed eight of the first nine points of the second set, extinguished the Russian's hopes by taking the second 64.
The first rubber had seen Dominika Cibulkova come from a set down to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 64 in the decider. The pivotal break came in the seventh game, when Cibulkova's deep approach forced the 21-year-old Russian into a backhand error when a second break point down. The Slovak then showed a steely resolve to recover from 0-30 down in the very next game, before again finding herself in arrears when serving for the match. But at 15-30, she produced a brave and high class drop shot which just brushed the tape, and two points later the match was won.
"Sometimes you need luck, but I was brave, I was going for the drop shot. God was with me and I'm happy," said Cibulkova."Pavlyuchenkova is a great player - this is a huge win for me and for my country."
Both players had shown plenty of positive intent throughout the first set, but consistency proved elusive and double faults were too prevalent. There were four breaks of serve in the opening eight games - the turning point came when Cibulkova knifed a forehand volley into the net to give Pavlyuchenkova break point in the 11th game. The Russian's forehand proved too good, and she then held her serve, and her nerve, to take the set 75.
Cibulkova needed six break points and a fortuitous net cord to secure the early break in the second set. The evidence of the first had suggested the match was likely to go the distance, and so it proved, as the world No. 15 ran away with the set 61.
The momentum is very much with the visitors. Russia would expect to win Sunday's doubles, but the form of Cibulkova and Hantuchova on the first day suggests that it might be a hollow, and ultimately academic, victory.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - 20/04/13
Maria Kirilenko (RUS) - 20/04/13
Captain Matej Liptak (SVK) - 20/04/13
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - 20/04/2013