One To Watch: Jana Cepelova
Published February 10, 2011 11:00
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - Amid the disappointment of Slovakia's Fed Cup loss to their Czech neighbors last weekend, there was a beacon of light for the hosts in Bratislava. Jana Cepelova (che-pel-ova), ranked No.437 in the world and making her competition debut, came away with a perfect 2-0 record.
At the end of Saturday's play, Slovak captain Matej Liptak told the 17-year-old that should Daniela Hantuchova lose the first reverse singles on Sunday - giving the Czechs an unassailable 3-0 lead - Cepelova would play the fourth singles match in place of Dominika Cibulkova. When that turn of events came to pass, the inexperienced Cepelova - who hasn't even made her WTA debut - dazzled the fans and impressed her opponents.
After a tentative start against Lucie Safarova, Cepelova played her way into the match - sometimes outfoxing the world No.30 with mature cat-and-mouse play, sometimes beating the Czech lefty at her own power game. That it was a dead rubber and that Safarova retired with a hamstring strain after losing the second set tie-break mattered little: Cepelova had thrilled the crowd with her gutsy performance.
"Jana played very well," said Safarova. "I was very surprised how she took to it... she was on fire, shall we say!"
A while later, Cepelova was back on court partnering Magdalena Rybarikova in the doubles. This time, she got to taste real triumph when the Slovak duo upset highly-fancied Kveta Peschke and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in a third-set tie-break. While it didn't change the overall result, it did improve the final standings of the tie to 3-2.
"I feel amazing - I can't believe it," said Cepelova, who hails from the city of Kosice in eastern Slovakia - the birthplace of a certain Martina Hingis - and lists swimming among her interests. "I've never played a Top 30 player before… I'm used to playing the juniors!"
While Cepelova has enjoyed a good junior career, she hasn't exactly hogged the limelight. Last year she won the Australian Open doubles with Chantal Skamlova, but in singles she didn't pass the second round at any of the four majors. The 1.68m right-hander did shine at the Youth Olympics in Singapore, though, winning a bronze medal in singles, and silver in doubles.
But indications are she is destined to succeed where it really matters, in the adult ranks. Last October, in her first 'full' season on the ITF Women's Circuit, Cepelova won her maiden singles title in Tunisia; the second came in Germany last month.
"I'm happy that we have a player like that for the future, and I hope she will keep improving," said Liptak. "Jana is just starting out in women's tennis, and yet she played Lucie like this was a normal match for her."
Next stop is a 25K ITF tournament in the US, however while Cepelova hopes to be in the Slovak team for their World Group play-off against Serbia in April, she is also realistic about her immediate prospects.
"I don't think I'll be giving our captain too many headaches just yet," she smiled. "Our other players are still much better than me and I am not used to playing against such quality. But, I think I have time."