NIS, SERBIA: Emulating last season’s achievement of reaching their maiden final in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas would have been a tall order for Serbia under any circumstances, but with their top players Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic sidelined by niggling injuries it appears more like mission impossible.
Led by stalwarts Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova, Slovakia will start their 2013 first round tie against Serbia as strong favourites to advance to the last four although they will take nothing for granted in the cauldron of the acoustic Cair Hall.
It will be the fifth meeting between the two teams since 2007, with the Slovakians winning three of the four thrilling encounters. Once again, they will rely on the vast experience of 29-year old Hantuchova, who was a WTA top 10 player when she led her country to the 2002 Fed Cup title with an impressive 3-1 win over Spain.
Serbian fans must have had high hopes of success on home soil after Ivanovic and Jankovic made a U-turn on their decision to quit the national team after losing the 2012 final to the Czech Republic, but neither managed to recover in time for what should still be a rip-roaring clash.
Their absence means a young Serbian team will have to dig deep into their thin resources if they are to pull off what would now be an upset win against the Slovakians.
“Not having your top two players and with the third struggling to recover would be a bitter blow for any team but we have to deal with it and I hope the girls will draw inspiration from adversity and perform to the best of their abilities,” Serbia team captain Dejan Vranes said.
“It’s still a 50-50 tie. Although the Serbian team is a bit weaker because Jankovic and Ivanovic are not here, the Fed Cup is a specific competition and they still have two very good players in Jovanovski and Dolonc, especially the former who is in very good form,” replied his opposite number Matej Liptak.
“That aside, Dolonc is a new player on the Fed Cup scene and you never know what to expect from newcomers,” he emphasised.
Jankovic withdrew earlier this week with pains in her back and hip while Ivanovic pulled out on Thursday with a sore shoulder after she failed to recuperate through individual training sessions and therapy in Belgrade.
Their absence has left Bojana Jovanovski, herself nursing a back injury, as Serbia’s team leader and Russian-born Vesna Dolonc as the potential surprise package on her Fed Cup debut.
Friday’s draw in the Nis City Hall pitted Jovanovski against Hantuchova and Dolonc versus Cibulkova in Saturday’s opening singles rubbers, while Jovanovski will meet Cibulkova and Dolonc takes on Hantuchova in the reverse singles on Sunday. Dolonc and Aleksandra Krunic have been nominated to play Rybarikova and Jana Cepelova in the doubles.
“The reason I am still here is that we believe we can go all the way again and win the competition, so we are really looking forward to playing in a great atmosphere here and representing our country” Hatntuchova said.
“It’s going to be a tough tie because Serbia have the advantage of playing in front of their home crowd but we have a great team and we will do our best to progress to the semifinals,” she added.
Dolonc said she felt no stage fright ahead of her first Fed Cup match and expressed belief that Serbia could defy the odds to reach the last four.
“I am very excited because I don’t know how it feels to play for a country but I am really happy to be a part of this Serbian team. We have a very good team that gets along very well and hopefully I will be able to win my opening match and I know that fan support will help us play on top of our limits.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) v Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
R2: Vesna Dolonc (SRB) v Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
R3: Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) v Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
R4: Vesna Dolonc (SRB) v Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
R5: Vesna Dolonc/Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) v Jana Cepelova/Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - 08/02/2013
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - 08/02/2013
Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) - 08/02/2013