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Tennis: Russians to play Slovaks in Hopman final

Russian siblings Marat Safin and Dinara Safina will play the Slovak Republic in Friday's Hopman Cup final, after beating France 2-1 in their final Group B tie on Thursday.

sports Updated: Jan 08, 2009 20:42 IST

Russian siblings Marat Safin and Dinara Safina will play the Slovak Republic in Friday's Hopman Cup final, after beating France 2-1 in their final Group B tie on Thursday.

The tie was locked at 1-1 after the singles and Russia simply needed to win the deciding mixed doubles to remain unbeaten from three group ties and reach the final, while the French team of Alize Cornet and Gilles Simon had to win in straight sets to advance.

At 4-1 up in the first set the match was going to plan for the French but Safin and Safina suddenly found some cohesion to rattle off five successive games and break French hearts by claiming the first set.

With the French out of the equation, only Italy, with two wins from three ties, stood between the second seeds and the final.

The Italian team of Simone Bolelli and Flavia Pennetta had been handed a 3-0 win against Taiwan in their final tie Thursday, after Taiwan's Lu Yen-Hsun pulled out injured.

But the Russians kept their composure to notch a 6-4, 6-3 win and give their country the chance at a second title in the mixed teams tournament, after Nadia Petrova and Dmitry Tursunov won here in 2007.

Safina had given the Russians the early ascendancy in the tie with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Cornet, before Simon beat Safin in their first singles meeting, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.

Safina said it would be a unique thrill to win the mixed teams event, with her brother entering the last year of a decorated and often colourful career.

"It is great, it is our first and last time playing together, so it is not a bad way to finish our family tennis career," she said.

"I really wanted to win today and to play in the final. We started a little bit slow but we picked up our level."

Earlier in the day, the seventh-seeded Slovaks advanced to their fourth Hopman Cup final in dramatic circumstances when Germany's Nicolas Kiefer collapsed on court with an ankle injury and was taken off in a wheelchair.

Both teams were unbeaten going into the tie but the battle for a place in the final came to a premature end when Kiefer crashed down with a twisted ankle in the fifth game of his singles clash with Dominik Hrbaty.

That meant the Slovaks won the tie 3-0 and topped Group A after being awarded the mixed doubles on a walkover. Dominika Cibulkova had earlier beaten fellow teen Sabine Lisicki, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.

Hrbaty, who won in 2005 with Daniela Hantuchova and whose form this week has belied his current singles ranking of 250, said he was looking forward to playing Safin in the final, but admitted he was unsure what to expect from the enigmatic Russian.

"He can come to a match and give up because he is not happy," Hrbaty said of his regular practice partner.

"Then he can come another day, straight from a plane after 14 hours of flight, and play unbelievable... With him, it's just a mental thing."

The pair have met in singles 14 times, with the record split at 7-7, and Safin joked he knew Hrbaty's game more intimately than he would like.

"I am tired of him already, I have played him too many times," Safin said.

"Hopefully, he will choke a little bit and we will be the champions.

"It is my fourth time and I really want to win, especially with my sister, and the Slovaks they have to understand and try to lose for us tomorrow."

Cibulkova, who like Safina has been unbeaten in singles this week, said she was eyeing one of the diamond-crusted tennis balls awarded to the tournament winners.

"It is always nice to play for something," she said. "I am really excited to be in the final and tomorrow we will d