Dominika Cibulkova won an enthralling match today at the Generali Ladies Linz tournament, winning her third title of 2016 and qualifying for the prestigious Year-End Championships in Singapore in a week’s time. She beat Viktorija Golubic in the final 6-3 7-5 to book her ticket to Singapore–a career-defining moment for the Slovak.
The match had a bit of everything. It was greatly contested with both players giving their all in every point from the beginning to the end. The match started off very competitively on serve, where Golubic stayed level pegging with Cibulkova for the first seven service games of the match. Then at 4-3* in the first set, Cibulkova found her breakthrough and eventually took the set 6-3. It was looking like Cibulkova was comfortably on her way to the title, especially when she took an early break lead in the second set.
The biggest difference between the two was the familiarity that Cibulkova has with playing offensive, risky, aggressive tennis. Golubic tried her best to take the match to Cibulkova, which is something she was not used to in the earlier matches of the week. Golubic knew that if she remained defensive she would be handing the initiative to Cibulkova. Simply retrieving and getting balls back would give the 2014 Australian Open finalist the licence to attack the Swiss into submission. So the tactical awareness of Golubic was there to see, which would have been pleasing for her and her coach Robert Orlik.
In the second set, Golubic started penetrating big groundstrokes to the backhand of Cibulkova, which is by far her weaker side. Golubic was getting a lot of joy and broke back for 3-3 in the second set. The Swiss continued to create chances for herself as her level continued to rise in spurts. She held three break points at 4-3* but could not find her breakthrough. The most testing times for the World No.1 Slovak was in the tenth game, where Golubic produced four set points, but the fighting qualities of Cibulkova rose to the surface.
The most difficult challenge that Cibulkova poses to her opponents is that you can never tell when she is ready to quit. She lets her opponents know that she is ever-present, both vocally and with supreme body language that sends a message to the person on the other side of the court. It can be argued that Cibulkova is one of the greatest fighters in our game because of her ability to give one hundred percent to every ball and to every point.
After facing those four set points, Cibulkova reeled off three games and took home the Linz title. It was one of the most special moments of her career, because of how much pressure she had to handle and because of what this title win means in the coming weeks. She talked about qualifying for Singapore in press as I questioned just how much it meant to her:
“After this week it means the world to me because it was never my goal to play Singapore, but after this year I was doing so well and being so consistent, I just felt I have my chance. It was a big challenge for me to come here and play this tournament knowing that only finals or winning could put me somewhere. I think I held this pressure unbelievable in a good way.”
One of the journalists asked Cibulkova what she expected from Singapore as it approaches:
“We’ll see. It will be my first time in Singapore. Right now I’m still all over about the finals. I just want to enjoy it for a few days. It looks like on Tuesday we are going to fly to Singapore. I don’t know what to expect from there. I’ve never been there, but only top players is going to be playing there. This tournament has given me a lot of confidence again. I want to have this mindset in Singapore.”
Cibulkova now flies to Singapore on Tuesday in preparation for one of the biggest events of her life. Can her season continue to get better and better?