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Russia faces Slovakia in Cup final

RUSSIA spared Hopman Cup organizers from consulting their calculators yesterday by beating France 2-1 and booking a place in the Perth final against Slovakia.

A Russian defeat would have meant they, along with France and Italy, would have each won two of their three round-robin Group B ties. The scenario would have left organizers to select the finalist based on a complicated breakdown of which nation won more matches, sets and games.

After splitting the singles matches with France, Dinara Safina and her brother Marat Safin ensured they controlled their own fate by overpowering Alize Cornet and Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-3 in the deciding doubles.

It gave Russia a 3-0 record in the round robin stage of the mixed team event and it will be favorites to beat Slovakia in today's final.

Italy had kept alive its hopes of reaching the final when it benefitted from two walkovers to rout Chinese Taipei 3-0 earlier in the day but Russia's win put them and France out of the running.

Germany's Nicolas Kiefer had his Australian Open preparations thrown into disarray after injuring his ankle during his clash against Slovakia's Dominik Hrbaty.

The 31-year-old German was leading 3-1 in the first set of the mixed teams round-robin event when he twisted his ankle and was taken off the court in a wheelchair, gifting the tie to Slovakia.

Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova had earlier beaten Sabine Lisicki 7-6, 6-4 in the women's singles match. Slovakia was awarded the mixed doubles tie on a walkover.

In the other Group A match yesterday, James Blake and Meghann Shaughnessy combined to beat Australia 2-1 and consign the hosts to the bottom of the group.

World No. 10 James Blake thrashed Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 6-2. It was the first singles loss here for Hewitt, who is making a return after missing the tailend of 2008 because of a hip injury.

The former world No. 1 appeared sluggish and complained of a problem with his ear.

"I'm not really sure what it is, I couldn't hear a lot out there," Hewitt said. "I sort of felt I was tripping over my feet out there for a while, so it wasn't the best situation to be in. The hip actually felt really good today, the best it's felt. So I was more frustrated with the ear and not being able to hear the ball properly.

"I couldn't pick up on it. My whole balance and routine was knocked out of whack."

Casey Dellacqua managed to record her first win of the event in front of her home crowd in Western Australia with a 6-3, 6-4 victory before Blake beat Hewitt then combined with Shaughnessy to win the mixed doubles in a tiebreak decider 6-3, 5-7, 7-6.


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