By Matt Cronin
FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD, DAY 6 – Partly due to necessity, players sometimes rewrite their own personal histories in order to be able to move ahead with their careers after devastating defeats. After she bested Sorana Cirstea 6-4 6-0 in the semifinals of Stanford and discussed a possible meeting in the final with Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova reflected back on the 2013 Sydney final, when the Pole blistered her 6‑0, 6‑0 to win the title.
At Stanford, Cibulkova commented that if one had seen the first set, you could see it was closer than the score indicated and to some degree that was true, but I sat courtside that warm night in Sydney and it wasn’t that close. In fact, Radwanska played incredibly well and Cibulkova imploded to the point of no return and had a mental collapse that belies her immense talent and at times, an enormous amount of self belief against other members of her generation. Here is what I wrote then:
“Lots of things are going to have to change for Dominica Cibulkova in the next few days after Aga Radwanska blistered her 6‑0, 6‑0 to win the [Sydney] title. The Slovakian was ridiculously erratic early and then she became scared and then she couldn’t keep a ball in the court of any kind. You could tell that the super steady Radwanska – who seemed to read where she was going all night long – felt a little bad for her, but as Radwanska said later, this is tennis and in tennis things happen and you never ever take your foot off the pedal, even when you can sense your foe’s meltdown and all you have to is get the ball back in the court.
“In the beginning I think she wanted too much,” Radwanska said. “Then I think in the beginning also a little bit nervous. This is a final, so it’s always a little bit different than the ones before. I think in the second set she really didn’t know what to do. I think I was just playing at same level whole match, and that’s it. It’s always a little bit different because in your head it’s just like, I just lost set 6-0 and I have to win the game. It’s always tough to play with this feeling. I think she also had those thoughts in her head and it’s always a little bit harder…Too many mistakes from her.”’
More than too many mistakes as Cibulkova, who had played so brilliantly in taking out Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani and Angie Kerber, fell into a black hole of erratic and nervous play which she might not get out in Melbourne. She had no defense and her money shot, her forehand, disappeared. How bad was it? Listen to her:
“When I lost that 1‑0 again in the second set, I just completely kind of break down and stop thinking about what I have to do and how to play well. I was just thinking, Oh, my God, what is happening? I was not choking, but I was starting to think about the score,. Until then I had some strategy that I want to do. And then after 6‑0, 1‑0, 2‑0, I was like, Oh, my God, what is happening? Now it’s like the score that didn’t want to be in. After I stopped thinking and I was just thinking about the score all the time. After I just wanted to stay in a rally with her, but it’s just not something I’m used to d. I’m just start to play with less power, and that’s not where I feel comfortable. Then I just didn’t want to do the mistakes and then I was doing even more mistakes. It was just like this, going round [in a spiral]. I knew that she would not give my one easy ball, and it was making my frustration even bigger.
How often does a world No. 15 lose to a world No. 4 6-0, 6-0 in a final. Hardly ever. How often does the notable player who was double bageled, come back at a Slam a few days later and go on a major run? Has it ever happened?
While Cibulkova chances of reaching the second week of Melbourne may have totally disappeared, Radwanska, who went off into the Sydney night in search of big piece of cheesecake, is feeling very good about herself.
Radwanska did not end of having a great Aussie Open [Li Na, whom she had beaten in the Sydney semis, punched her out in the quarters], and true to the projection Cibulkova had a disastrous Aussie Open, falling to [who?] qualifier Valeria Savinykh in the second round. Sometime after that she watched the first set of her loss to Radwanska so she could learn form her mistakes. That’s a great idea as it shows she’s not hiding from what has occurred. But I am by no means convinced she can turn things around on Sunday in Palo Alto as on Saturday I could hear her voice quiver a bit – not because she thinks that Radwanska can wipe her off the court if she herself plays well, but because she fears playing so badly and nervously again. Hopefully for fans both will bring their best because it could be a cracker of a final. After Radwanska’s clinical 6-3 6-2 win over Jamie Hampton in the semis, the Pole is looking confident again, so she will enter the final a substantial favorite and should she win the title, perhaps she will be able to forget her emotionally devastating loss to Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon semis, a Grand Slam she admits was on her racket.