Cibulkova’s win­ning de­but faces fi­nal test in Kerber

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

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

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