Both bidding for a first ever Wimbledon semi-final appearance and likely to be feeling the effects of extra-time wins on Monday, Dominika Cibulkova and Elena Vesnina will battle it out second up on No.1 Court on Tuesday.
In yet another classic to add to the wonderful Cibulkova-Radwanska rivalry in 2016, the Slovak player extended her winning streak to nine matches as she saved a match point in a thrilling, 6-3 5-7 9-7 victory in exactly three hours. Even with time to let the dust settle, it’s my match of the year so far. After an encouraging start to the match from both players, Cibulkova drew away with some quite brutal hitting. The Slovak player hit 14 winners, dominating on the forehand side and having almost no jitters, serving out the set to 15.
Cibulkova was up an early break in the second set but lost her way a little as Radwanska began to keep the ball from Cibulkova’s forehand and play with more conviction. The pair exchanged four consecutive breaks as Cibulkova failed to serve out the match at *5-4. The 27-year-old had a match point which she couldn’t take as Radwanska volleyed a winner away to break back. The Pole played two more superb games, setting up her very own set point with a powerful backhand down-the-line, which she duly converted.
The quality in the third set was magnificent. Cibulkova clearly lost her way having been on the verge of victory in the second set. She began to settle after a gutsy hold, saving a break point in her first service game of the third set with a drive volley winner. The pair both secured tough holds with the score trundling along to 3-3 in the third set. Cibulkova then made her move with a quite majestic game, breaking to love. Radwanska broke back immediately to 4-4 where this match, unbelievably, went up a few more levels.
Radwanska saved a combined eight break points in her next two service games at *4-4 and *5-5. This included one incredible reactive forehand winner that FLEW past Cibulkova! Radwanska also came up with some excellent serves out wide. As good as Radwanska was on the break points, Cibulkova showed remarkable resilience to overcome the disappointment of not breaking and hold with scoreboard pressure in the following games. Cibulkova saved a match point at *5-6 *30-40 with yet another forehand winner.
As the match went into extra-time, Cibulkova continued to hit with remarkable power and precision. She finally converted on an elusive break point to bring up a second opportunity to serve for the match again… she was broken again at *7-6 with Radwanska hitting a return winner on break point. Cibulkova kept plugging away on return and set up another break point with a crunching forehand winner down-the-line. CibuIkova broke again to serve for it at *8-7. Radwanska got back to 30-30 with Cibulkova clearly starting to feel the strain physically. A second match point went by the wayside but on her third match point, Cibulkova swatted away another winner. It was lovely to see the pair embrace after such a battle. A standing ovation to both Domi and Aga for putting on such a show.
Radwanska-Cibulkova was the match of the day but Vesnina’s 5-7 6-1 9-7 three set victory over Ekaterina Makarova was a worthy second place. It was a fantastic match that went down to the wire and also ended with a nice hug between friends and doubles partners. For Vesnina, she is into a first ever Slam quarter-final. Understandably there were some nerves when she attempted to serve out the match at *5-4 having produced some peak tennis to break Makarova. Like her quarter-final opponent, Cibulkova, she showed tremendous resilience to hold with scoreboard pressure having missed two break points on Makarova’s serve at 6-6. Vesnina though rolled through the final two games, winning the last 10 points of her match for the biggest win of her singles career so far.
Head-to-head record: Cibulkova and Vesnina are tied at 3-3 in their head-to-head. The pair have played just once since 2011 with Cibulkova winning in Moscow at the end of 2015, 7-5 6-1. Vesnina won their only previous encounter on grass at Wimbledon back in 2009, 7-5 4-6 6-4.
Interesting stat: Cibulkova and Vesnina are both having terrific years; Cibulkova is leading the WTA match wins for 2016 with 33 wins, while Vesnina, who was forced to qualify for the Australian Open at the start of 2016 and has successfully qualified for five main draws, has racked up a total of 34 wins in 2016.
Final thoughts: After Cibulkova’s win over Radwanska, I wasn’t feeling too positive about her chances in the quarters after such a brutal match. However, Vesnina had an equally gruelling match and finished later too so both will likely be a little fatigued. Cibulkova has such confidence right now and played arguably one of the best matches of her career against Radwanska. Her form has been consistently good all year and her intensity and spirit on court is undeniable; while she twice failed to serve out the match against Radwanska, she showed incredible resilience to then keep fighting and even save a match point.
Vesnina’s game is dynamite on the grass but it’s tough to favour a player who will be playing in a new situation and the biggest match of her career. Cibulkova may be running on fumes but confidence and self-belief can take you a long way. I’m chuffed for Elena and personally i’ll be cheering for her… but Domi for the win.