Battling to reach the final of the WTA Finals for their first time in their careers, the number seven and eight seeds, Dominika Cibulkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, will meet in the first of the semi-finals in Singapore on Saturday.
While she was the last player to qualify for Singapore, Kuznetsova was the first player to confirm her place in the semi-finals. The Russian player powered through fatigue to win three set thrillers against Agnieszka Radwanska (7-5 1-6 7-5, 2h48) and Karolina Pliskova (3-6 6-2 7-6(6), 2h17) on Monday and Wednesday respectively. In both matches, her opponent served for the match – Kuznetsova saved a match point against Radwanska and was two points from defeat against Pliskova, but prevailed in both to win her 21st and 22nd three set matches of 2016.
In what was essentially a dead rubber against Garbiñe Muguruza in her final match from the white group, Kuznetsova started in style but ran out of gas as Muguruza won 12 of the last 13 games to claim her first win of the week, 3-6 6-0 6-1.
Cibulkova headed into her final round robin match against Simona Halep knowing that only a straight sets win would keep her hopes of qualifying intact. The Slovak player did just that with a superb display, defeating a struggling but battling Halep, 6-3 7-6(5). Cibulkova made a super start, winning 13 of the first 14 points to go up a quick 3-0. Halep looked to be hurting with her left knee taped up as Cibulkova won the first set in just 30 minutes. However, the second set would take almost three times as long as the first…
Cibulkova was three times up a break in the second set but on all three occasions, was immediately broken back by Halep. Cibukova’s penetrating groundstrokes, notably the forehand, were putting Halep under great pressure but to her credit, the Romanian player didn’t feel sorry for herself and kept working hard from the baseline. As the quality and intensity of the match increased, Halep prevailed in two lengthy deuce games; in the latter at 4-4, she saved two break points to inch ahead and within one game of winning the second set.
It didn’t come as a surprise when Cibulkova aborted a ball toss at the start of her service game at *4-5. However, she took a deep breath and found her fighting instincts to hold with scoreboard pressure at both *4-5 and *5-6, having lost the first points of the respective games. Into a second tiebreak and the pair opened with the point of the match; a squash shot from Halep dinked over the net for a winner. Pummelling her groundstrokes and finding some neat angles too, Cibulkova eventually held her nerve to win. The second set of Cibulkova-Halep was superb and if you missed it, it is well worth a watch back…
By virtue of Angelique Kerber defeating Madison Keys in the final round robin match in straight sets, Cibulkova finished in second place in the red group behind Kerber to qualify for the semi-finals.
Head-to-head record: Cibulkova leads Kuznetsova, 5-3 in their head-to-head. Kuznetsova won their first three encounters between 2007 and 2008 but since then, Cibulkova has won five on the trot. Their last two matches have both gone the distance including their most recent encounter, a first match-up in over five years in Wuhan, where Cibulkova battled to the win a high-quality three-setter, 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Interesting stat: In five previous appearances at the WTA Finals between 2004 and 2009 at venues in the USA, Spain and Qatar, Kuznetsova never once made it out of the round robin group stage. In fact, Kuznetsova had won just three of her fifteen matches at the WTA Finals. Kuznetsova could double her tally of wins in the WTA Finals with a win on Saturday.
Final thoughts: If their last match in Wuhan is anything to go by then we can expect a very competitive semi-final. No doubt fatigue will be there for both players… particularly Kuznetsova who it doesn’t go without saying has played a very heavy schedule since the US Open. However, one thing we’ve learnt this week is to never write off the heart and fight of Sveta.
Both are ending their season on a huge high, both are playing well and both have handled pressure admirably well in the past few weeks, not only to qualify for this tournament but to reach the semi-finals.
It is very tough to separate the pair but i’m picking Cibulkova to reach the final.