By Fernie Ruano Jr.
If Dominika Cibulkova, the quick footed, demonstrative dynamo with the violent forehand and blonde ponytail, were measured in height alone, the Slovakian star would have a difficult time guaranteeing a lunchtime seat inside the ball kid’s tent at the Tennis Center of Crandon Park in Key Biscayne.
But the catlike, 5’3” Cibulkova, a ball of energy constantly hopping up and down in between points to go with audible bursts of encouragement, echoing throughout Stadium Court for 2-and-a-half hours Wednesday afternoon at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis, secured a spot in the semifinals with a mild upset of No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska 3-6, 7-6(5) 6-3, in a marathon affair worthy of run in ESPN Classic’s library.
“It wasn’t easy at all to play today against Aga with the wind and conditions, and I had to stay aggressive all the time even if I missed many shots, you know. I just had to keep going,” Cibulkova said.
No. 10 seed Cibulkova will find her name in the Top 10 rankings next week thanks to a third victory in the last five head-to-head matches against Radwanska, all on hard court, including a semis win in Australia in January. More importantly, Cibulkova, who will play the winner of No. 2 Ni La-No.11 Caroline Wozniacki, is a win shy of the tournament finals. “Before the match, even before the tournament, like they keep asking me, Top 10 and everything, and I just, you know, I just said, like, Okay, if I should be there, I will be there. If I should not be there, I will not be there. So now I’m there. So finally it’s over,” she said.
Cibulkova scored a second straight win over Radwanska, who was seeking a 25th career victory in eight tournament appearances. Radwanska still leads the all-time series 5-3, but it was the pesky Cibulkova, cheered on by an attentive and appreciative midday crowd, clapping and shouting out her name at every opportunity, that walked off victorious seconds after ending up flat on the back of her fitted navy blue dress, a combination of joy and exhaustion.
Constantly moving, Cibulkova ran Radwanska all over the court in taking the first two game of the decisive set, but needed to hold in the fifth game to maintain a slight lead after Radwanska responded with two straight games of her own. Serving for the match at 5-3, Cibulkova rallied from 15-30 with another vicious forehand to force deuce and withstood three break points to finally put her rival to bed.
After five straight breaks to start the match, Radwanska put together four straight winners to take a 4-2 lead. Radwanska broke Cibulkova again in the seventh and ninth games respectively to wrap up the set in 44 minutes.
But Cibulkova would not be denied, opening the second set by forcing a pair of unforced errors to break Radwanska. The Slovakian then took the next two games to jump out 3-1 before Radwanska held serve and broke back. Trailing by a game, Cibulkova put together a rally, fighting through three deuces before finally getting back even with a beautiful backhand winner that brought most of the crowd out of their seats. She rode the momentum by winning 4 of the next 5 points to take a 6-5 edge.
Another Radwanska break point forced a tiebreaker, but Cibulkova responded by rallying with 5 straight points to take the set after trailing 5-2.