The Slovak Republic won their third Hopman Cup on Friday, beating Russia 2-0 in the final of the mixed teams tournament.
The Slovak pairing of Dominika Cibulkova and Dominik Hrbaty beat Russian siblings and second seeds Dinara Safina and Marat Safin in two thrilling singles matches to claim the title.
Hrbaty joined a select group of players to have won two Hopman Cup titles, having teamed up with Daniela Hantuchova to win here in 2005. Karol Kucera and Karina Habsudova first won it for the Slovak Republic in 1998.
In the women’s singles, the emerging Cibulkova caused an upset when she beat world No.3 Safina in three sets, 6-7 (3/7), 6-1, 6-4.
Then the 31-year-old Hrbaty also came from a set down to beat 29th-ranked Safin in another tight three setter, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5, 7-6 (7/3).
The Slovaks have been friends for several years and Hrbaty said this helped the seventh seeds to upset more fancied opponents throughout the tournament.
“I think because we had a great team spirit we won it,” he said. “We didn’t have by rankings probably the best team, but the team spirit was one of the best.”
Cibulkova said it had been a thrill to team up with one of her tennis heroes — as well as someone who hails from the same Slovakian club — and take the title.
“He was my idol, I was watching the Davis Cup when they went to the final and was there screaming,” she said. “I am so glad to be here with him and that won is just an amazing feeling.”
The women’s singles was one of the finest ever seen in a Hopman Cup final, with the diminutive Cibulkova, ranked No. 19 in the world, notching her first win over the towering Safina to cap an impressive week of singles form.
Safina, ranked No. 3 in the world and one of the likely contenders at the Australian Open, recovered from a break down to claim the first set in a tie-break when Cibulkova double faulted on the Russian’s first set point.
But Cibulkova, unbeaten in four singles matches this week, lifted her game as the Safina forehand lost its accuracy and her serve faltered in the second set.
The pugnacious Slovak reeled off the last five games of the set and continued that form into the decider, sweeping to a 5-1 lead after winning 11 of the previous 12 games.
However, just when Safina seemed vanquished, the Russian rallied and clawed her way back to 5-4 as Cibulkova was unable to serve out the match at the first attempt.
Safina then had two break points to level the match, but Cibulkova hung tough and an errant forehand from the Russian on the second match point finally handed the Slovak a well-earned win. It was the teenager’s first win in three matches against Safina and confirmed Hrbaty’s assessment that the 19-year-old can be one of the best players in women’s tennis.
The cagey Hrbaty, ranked 221 places below Safin at 250 in the world, then continued a fine week of singles form that belied his lowly ranking to seal the final.
Safin seemed set to level the tie when he produced a stunning forehand pass to clinch the first set and served a barrage of aces early in the second.
However, Hrbaty broke in the 11th game of the second set and leveled the match, before clinching the Hopman Cup in the third set tie-break.
■HONG KONG CHALLENGE
AFP, HONG KONG
World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic pulled out of the Hong Kong World Team Challenge with flu yesterday, throwing her Australian Open preparations into disarray.