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Slovak Republic Shocks Russian Siblings To Seize Hopman Cup

At the XXI Hyundai Hopman Cup, a tournament celebrating mixed doubles play, Slovakians Dominik Hrbaty and Dominika Cibulkova surprised the brother and sister team of Marat Safin and Dinara Safina to win that country’s third trophy in Perth, Australia. In the first match, Cibulkova, undefeated in singles this week, beat Safina for the first time in her career 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 while Hrbaty prevailed in the second rubber against Safin 6-7, 7-5, 7-6.

Nineteen year-old Cibulkova, also the world number 19, was aggressive from the first ball strike against world number 3, Safina. With the score tied at 2 in the first set, Cibulkova smoked a backhand down the line, which resulted in an unforced error from Safina for break point. With Dinara unable to dig out a low volley, Dominika pocketed the break. However, Safina quickly bounced back to square the set at 3 all. The Russian then held serve easily for 5-4 and had triple break point. But, with great defense and a few unforced errors from her opponent, the Slovakian escaped. The set was ultimately settled in a tiebreak. After Cibulkova gifted Safina a minibreak by missing an easy forehand volley, she gift-wrapped the set for Safina with a double fault.

With amnesia her ally, Cibulkova shrugged off the miscues from the prior set and drew first blood. Thanks to a string of unforced errors by Safina, Cibulkova took a 2-1 lead. More importantly, the Slovakian relentlessly attacked the Russian’s forehand side which had become a liability and sprinted to a double break lead. Cibulkova closed out the second set with a love game. As Safina’s forehand woes continued in the third set, Cibulkova built up a double break lead at 5-1. Yet, Safina refused to surrender and held despite a tough game for 2-5. With the teenager forced to close out the match, Cibulkova committed a forehand error of her own to keep Safina alive for 5-3. But, on her second attempt, after fighting off two break points, Cibulkova secured the first rubber when another forehand from Safina went array.

In the second match, Safin appeared to have caught his sister’s case of “forehanditis”. Yet, the Russian’s serve extricated him from several sticky situations. In the end, the first set went to a tiebreak which Safin won with a beautiful backhand winner. The second set was leveled until the ninth game when Hrbaty broke to inch ahead. However, Safin got a good bite on Hrbaty’s serve to force a forehand error from the Slovakian and square the set. Later, Hrbaty tracked down an overhead and was rewarded with a break point when Safin dumped the next shot into the net. Hrbaty then converted for a 6-5 lead. Subsequently, with his first ace of the night, Hrbaty wrapped up the second set. In the fourth game of the decisive set, Hrbaty got bailed out of love-40 by good serves and a few unforced errors from Safin. From then on, neither man troubled the other’s serve. So, the third was decided in a tiebreak. After trading minibreaks, Hrbaty took a commanding 6-3 lead when Safin misconnected on a forehand and backhand down the line. Then with two strong serves, Hrbaty shut the door on the Russians.

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