DCSIMG

Cibulkova aims for unlikely Australian Open win

Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia. Picture: Getty

Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia. Picture: Getty

  • by ELEANOR CROOKS
 

DOMINIKA Cibulkova knows that anything is possible after watching her best friend Marion Bartoli win Wimbledon.

Tomorrow, Cibulkova will attempt to become one of the most unlikely grand slam champions in history when she faces Li Na in the Australian Open final.

The 5ft 3in Slovakian had only previously reached one slam semi-final, at the French Open in 2009, and did not make it past the third round at any of the four tournaments last season.

While Bartoli enjoyed good fortune with her draw at Wimbledon last year before beating Sabine Lisicki in the final, Cibulkova has had no such luck.

Her last four matches have all been against higher-ranked players and, yesterday, fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska joined Maria Sharapova, Carla Suarez Navarro and Simona Halep in falling to Cibulkova.

Bartoli is in Melbourne and was able to congratulate her friend, with Cibulkova saying: “Straight after my semi-final she came into the gym to me. She hugged me. We were both crying. She was so happy for me.

“She was a big inspiration. When she won Wimbledon, we are very close friends, so I knew she was working so hard for it, so she was the one who deserved it so much.

“When she won it, I knew everything is possible.”

Aside from her fourth-round win over Sharapova, Cibulkova has not dropped a set all tournament and she was far too good for Radwanska, a player who she had lost 6-0, 6-0 against in Sydney last year.

It took the world No 24 only an hour and ten minutes in the early hours of yesterday morning to blast her way to a 6-1, 6-2 victory, with 21 winners.

She said: “I was just trying to focus on my game. I wanted to enjoy it. Of course it was not easy when I was up in the second set. The thought started to come that I could win. I was 100 per cent ready for it and I was just doing what I had to do. That’s why I won. I think I will say this today many times, it’s like a dream. It’s something so unbelievable.”

Radwanska had produced a stunning display to defeat defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals but that took its toll with no day off in between the matches.

She said: “I felt like I was in slow motion. I had a couple of tough matches, especially yesterday. I think I was not fresh enough. I was late for pretty much every ball. I could really feel that it was not my day.”

Radwanska’s only grand slam final came at Wimbledon in 2012, when she lost to Serena Williams, while she was also the favourite to reach the final at SW19 last year but went down to Lisicki in the semi-finals.

She said: “It’s very disappointing, especially that I didn’t play a top-five player. Semi-finals of a grand slam is still a good result. But of course you want even more.”

In yesterday’s first semi-final, Li ended the brilliant run of teenager Eugenie Bouchard to reach her third final in the last four years in Melbourne.

Li lost to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and Azarenka last year in a strange match where she fell over twice, twisting her ankle first and then hitting her head.

She said: “This is the third time, so I’m pretty close to the trophy. I’ll try to not fall down this time, because last year in the final I think I played well but I was unlucky.”

Li’s experience showed in a 6-2, 6-4 win over 19-year-old Bouchard, with the Canadian managing just three points in the first five games.

It could have been a very different week for Li, who was match point down in her third-round match to Lucie Safarova before turning things round.

She has been imperious since, and the 31-year-old said: “I really felt after the match I was getting a second life in this tournament.

“In China, we say if you have a tough time and you pass that, it means you will be so lucky. Or maybe it’s giving me back from last year.”

Bouchard will break into the top 20 next week after a year of phenomenal progress.

Last year, she lost in qualifying at Melbourne Park, and the teenager said: “I’m proud of how I’ve improved as a player throughout the tournament. But I’m never satisfied with losing. I’m always disappointed.

“I wouldn’t say I exceeded my expectations, but I’m happy with how I did.”

 

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