Slovakia stunned heavily favored Russia by jumping to a 2-0 lead after the opening singles in the Fed Cup semifinals on Saturday.
Dominika Cibulkova rallied to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in the opening singles and Daniela Hantuchova followed up with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Maria Kirilenko to put Slovakia one point away from advancing to the final for the first time since winning the title in 2002. Reverse singles and a doubles match are on Sunday.
”We are very close to win this tie,” Slovak captain Matej Liptak said. ”But we must be ready for tomorrow. We need just one point but it will not be easy. Like today, when all matches were very open, we are facing tough matches. But we will have three opportunities to finish the tie.”
Hantuchova, who was chosen over the higher-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova to back up Cibulkova, broke Kirilenko twice in the first set and in the seventh game of the second. She sealed the win with a forehand winner on her first match point on indoor clay at Krylatskoye Ice Stadium.
”I worked really hard for coming here with a great training preparation,” Hantuchova said. ”And I moved really good on the court. I think, I was able to do things that my captain told me.”
Hantuchova improved to 35-16 in the Fed Cup.
”I tried my best but they were just stronger than us today,” Kirilenko said. ”I practiced with her (Hantuchova) several times this year and I can say that today she played very solid tennis and it was difficult for me to challenge her.”
Earlier, Pavlyuchenko broke decisively in the 11th game to take the first set. Cibulkova led 4-0 to comfortably win the second, and she broke in the seventh game of the decider before closing it out on her first match point when Pavlychenkova returned wide.
”I wasn’t aggresive in the first set and the real match for me started from the second set,” Cibulkova said. ”I found my rhythm and served much better. I can say it was an extremely tough match.”
Pavlyuchenkova, who won her fourth career title two weeks ago at Monterrey in Mexico, said she couldn’t find her rhythm and struggled with the switch from a hard court to clay.
”It was a tough match, both physically and mentally,” Pavlyuchenkova said. ”Dominika has played a very good match. After making quite a number of double faults in the first set, she improved her serve in the second set and gave me practically no chance in the third.”
Four-time champion Russia has reached the semifinal stage for the seventh consecutive year. Slovakia is in its first since 2002.
The winner will face two-time defending champion Czech Republic or Italy in the final on Nov. 2-3.