MOSCOW, Russia - Slovakia put on an impressive display on Day 1 of their Fed Cup semifinal tie with Russia on Saturday, racing out to a 2-0 lead on the home team on the indoor clay courts of Moscow.
The first match was a close one on paper - Dominika Cibulkova against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the head-to-head tied at 1-1, their rankings only four spots apart, No.15 to No.19. And the match was close, too, lasting over two and a half hours, and at 3-all in the third set anybody's game. But it was Cibulkova who came through in the clutch, breaking at 30 in that game to lead 4-3, then the two holding serve the rest of the way until Cibulkova edged Pavlyuchenkova by a 57 61 64 scoreline.
"I had some double faults at the beginning because I was a little bit nervous - this was an important match. But in the end my serve helped me so much," Cibulkova said. "This was a really, really tough match. After the first set I just kept going. Everything about the atmosphere and playing for my country was just pushing me forward. I kept playing more and more aggressive and that's how I won.
"Pavlyuchenkova is a great player, playing at home. This is a huge win for me and my country."
The second match may have been a bit confusing on paper - Maria Kirilenko far-outranked Daniela Hantuchova, No.13 to No.75, but Hantuchova is a former Top 5 player whose ranking has taken a hit over the last year due to injury, and the Slovak actually led the Russian in their head-to-head, 5-2.
And it was that previous pattern that came to life in this match as Hantuchova won a routine first set then rallied from 2-0 down in the second set to beat the No.13-ranked Russian in two, 62 64.
"I knew I had to play very well because Maria's a great player," Hantuchova said. "I've had so many matches in Fed Cup, so my experience definitely helps. And my variety too - that's how I play, especially on clay, it's nice to use everything in my game. I was able to do that very well today."
"Of course when you lose it's always disappointing, but it's just one match and we have another day tomorrow," Kirilenko said. "We have a good doubles team and good singles players, so we just need to forget this day, wake up tomorrow with a clear head and try to do our best in tomorrow's matches."
Sunday's reverse singles will see Kirilenko face Cibulkova then Pavlyuchenkova face Hantuchova.
"It's a great position for us to be in - we couldn't ask for more than that," Hantuchova said of Slovakia's 2-0 lead. "But tomorrow is a new day and I have to go out there and do the same thing."