After fighting through multiple three-set matches, Dominika Cibulkova breezed through her Friday semifinal against Louisa Chirico to make her biggest final since the 2014 Australian Open. René Denfeld writes up impressions of the Slovak’s run into the finals of the Mutua Madrid Open.
It’s largely been a run through adversity in Madrid for Dominika Cibulkova, who started her tournament on Sunday in the most difficult fashion: facing top-seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
“I would say it was really, really important, because if I wouldn’t make it then I could be already in Rome,” Cibulkova said, looking back at her first round win over the Pole — someone she’s had many close battles with in the past.
“I knew that I’m playing well, but it doesn’t mean — no, I don’t want to say it doesn’t mean anything when you just playing well in the practice. It means something — but you have to show it on the court and you just have to beat these good players if I want to get back where I was before. So it was big win for me, and that’s what helped me. I was 6-0, 3-0 down against [Caroline] Garcia [in the second round] — so you never know.”
After making it past the Frenchwoman, the 2014 Australian Open finalist had to battle back from the brink twice more, taking out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sorana Cirstea after losing the first set both times.
“Sometimes it’s like this, sometimes you can just win in two sets and sometimes it’s a different story — anyways, while I’m winning, I don’t care what is the score!”
In her semifinal, Cibulkova faced American qualifier Louisa Chirico but the Slovak was keen to go out on court being ready to enjoy the moment rather than let any expectations weigh her down.
“She’s in the semifinals — she has a lot of matches under her belt,” Cibulkova said ahead of the match. “I just wanna be ready for tomorrow — it’s the semifinals, so I just don’t want to put any pressure [on myself].”
Cibulkova did just that on her 27th birthday, as she played an almost flawless match out on Manolo Santana to defeat Chirico 6-1, 6-1 — hitting 24 winners to only eight unforced errors.
“I was really, really happy, because today’s match was not easy,” she said. “I made it look easy, but I was playing just really well. I was dominating on the court and I was mentally very strong. I did not let her play her game so she couldn’t do much with the forehand. I was really strong, solid on the backhand. I was the first one going for the forehand and make her run — so that was the most important. My serve was working really well today and I was just on my forehand all over the court. That was the most important.”
Cibulkova was knocking on the door for the entire year — as she reached the semifinals in Hobart and the final in Acapulco and pushing Radwanska and Garbiñe Muguruza in Indian Wells and Miami; however, the the huge win wouldn’t really come off of her racket. Despite some initial doubts, the Slovak then headed to Katowice, where she captured her first title of 2016 by defeating Camila Giorgi in the final.
“Katowice helped me quite a lot — where I won the tournament,” she said. “When I lost the second round in Miami to Muguruza, I sat down with my coach and we said, ‘Okay, I’m playing well, so just go there and I just want to play matches.'”
After capturing the Katowice Open title, Cibulkova suffered an early loss in Prague but as soon as she came to the altitude in Madrid, things started clicking into place — not just in terms of results, but also her tennis on clay.
“It flies a little more from the racquet and the balls are so good,” she said about the conditions in Madrid. “I don’t feel there’s a big difference between here and Roland Garros for me. Here you play tennis on clay, but there are not great differences between here and the hard courts. This year after many years, after four years I feel like I’m back on the clay and I know how my tennis should look on the clay.”
Most importantly for the Slovak, however, was backing up her win against Radwanska and getting results on a bigger stage after slowly building confidence on the International level this year — after losing a heartbreaker against Sloane Stephens in the Acapulco final and capturing her first title of the year in Poland.
“Finally it’s [in] the big tournament!” Cibulkova said. “This year, I played so many matches that it was going well but I had my result on the International level. I was waiting for this. I was really really happy it’s here cause already in Indian Wells and Miami in the second rounds I lost really close matches to Muguruza and Radwanska, so this was like, ‘Okay, I’m waiting for the moment for it to turn around.’
“It’s happening right now, so I’m really happy. I work really, really hard for this — you know, it all came together on this tournament. I hope it’s just [the] next step for what I want to achieve. You know, it feels great.”
In tomorrow’s final, today’s birthday girl is going to face Simona Halep — but Cibulkova was happy to be the first one through to the finals, which gave her time to relax, watch her opponents battle it out and get ready.
“This is the best way,” she said. “I know I’m in the finals and the opponent is going to play so I can watch them a little bit. Either way I don’t like to choose opponent. It’s going to be who is going to be better [today, who’s] going to play me in the finals. I’m just ready. I’m playing good tennis and I want to keep going and playing this way, [and it] doesn’t matter who’s on the other side.”