Cibulkova’s winning debut faces final test in Kerber
Top-ranked Angelique Kerber and seventh-seeded Dominika Cibulkova will compete for the WTA Finals title today.
The top-seeded Kerber picked apart defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska’s game in a textbook 6-2, 6-1 semifinal drubbing yesterday.
This is Kerber’s fourth trip to the WTA Finals and the first time she’s advanced beyond the round-robin stage of the competition.
“It’s just amazing to be here,” Kerber said. “It’s been an incredible 12 months. I’ve been really working to being focused, to being calm and to being just positive on court and this is the biggest improvement I’ve made.”
Slovakia’s Cibulkova rolled to the ground in celebration after taking her debut at the WTA Finals all the way to the championship match with a 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 semifinal victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova.
“I’m just so excited,” said Cibulkova, after winning in 2 hours, 27 minutes. “This is my first time here, playing finals now, and playing such a great match against Sveta.
“For me, it’s one of my dreams come true and it’s just incredible.”
Kerber leads Cibulkova 5-4 in career meetings, including Kerber’s tough 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3 win in their round-robin meeting here earlier this week.
Kerber featured in three Grand Slam finals this year, winning her first two Grand Slam titles at the Australian and US Open.
The semifinal was lopsided as Kerber, always on the offensive, kept Radwanska from finding any inroads into her game. While Kerber did surrender her serve on both break points she faced, it had little impact as she took advantage of seven of 13 break points offered by Radwanska.
Cibulkova holds a 6-3 winning record over Kuznetsova, and has now won their last six matches. She is the second consecutive player to reach the year-end final having come out of the round-robin stage with a 1-2 result.
Radwanska won the title from a 1-2 finish in the round-robin last year.
Cibulkova was named the 2016 WTA Comeback Player of the Year, having improved from a No. 38 year-end ranking in 2015 to No. 8 this week. In 2015, she missed four months of the season after undergoing Achilles surgery.
Cibulkova was almost non-existent in the first set and Kuznetsova didn’t offer a breakpoint opportunity.
The second set featured six service breaks, but it was Cibulkova who took the tiebreaker by repeated smartshot placement against her opponent.
Kuznetsova looked on the way to the finals with a 4-2 lead in the dramatic third set, but Cibulkova refused to fold.
From 4-4, Cibulkova saved two break points on her serve in the ninth game, and then captured the first match point at 30-40 when Kuznetsova’s forehand clipped the net and sailed wide.
“Whatever it is, I’m not going to put any excuses,” Kuznetsova said. “I just did all I could, and I went short a little bit in the end.”
Angelique Kerber of Germany makes a backhand return against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland Photo: AP