WTA Finals 2016

Tennis: Cibulkova joins Kerber, Kuznetsova in semis

Angelique Kerber serving against Madison Keys of the USA during their singles round-robin match. The German's straight-sets win sealed her passage into the WTA Finals last four, her first time in three tries.
Angelique Kerber serving against Madison Keys of the USA during their singles round-robin match. The German's straight-sets win sealed her passage into the WTA Finals last four, her first time in three tries.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia celebrating beating Simona Halep of Romania during their round-robin match at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals.
Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia celebrating beating Simona Halep of Romania during their round-robin match at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Slovak will face Russia's Kuznetsova after getting favour from world No. 1 Kerber

The crowd watching yesterday's BNP Paribas WTA Finals yelled "come on" in English, Romanian ("haide") and French ("Allez") at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

But by the end of the first singles clash between Dominika Cibulkova and Simona Halep, the multilingual fans became familiar with a new Slovakian phrase - "pome" (pronounced 'po-may').

It was what Cibulkova shouted repeatedly at herself throughout the 1hr 48min encounter. She bounced on her toes constantly, pumped her fist and hit 32 blistering winners en route to a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) victory over world No. 4 Halep and a place in the semi-finals.

The Slovak's straight-sets victory, coupled with Angelique Kerber's 6-3, 6-3 win over Madison Keys in the later match, saw both Cibulkova and the world No. 1 progress to the last four of the US$7 million (S$9.75 million) tournament presented by SC Global.

Kerber, with three wins from three matches, finished top of the Red Group while debutante Cibulkova's first win of the Finals catapulted her to second.

She was understandably elated afterwards despite having to wait for the end of the Kerber-Keys tie to know if she had advanced.

  • STATS OF THE DAY

    5 Maximum game win streak (Angelique Kerber)

    32 Most number of winners (Dominika Cibulkova)

    70% Highest first serve percentage (Dominika Cibulkova)

  • TODAY'S ORDER OF PLAY

    1.30pm

    Chan Hao-ching/ Chan Yung-jan (Tpe) v Martina Hingis (Sui)/ Sania Mirza (Ind)

    Not before 4pm

    Garbine Muguruza (Esp) v Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus)

    Not before 7.30pm

    Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) v Karolina Pliskova (Cze)

    Followed by

    Andrea Hlavackova/ Lucie Hradecka (Cze) v Ekaterina Makarova/ Elena Vesnina (Rus)

She said: "This win is really big for me... I'm really happy about the way I played, and the way I handled the situation and the pressure.

"It seems like I'm playing my best tennis under the biggest pressure."

Cibulkova dominated the first set, breaking Halep early and reeling off 12 straight points to lead 3-0 in less than 10 minutes. Pushing Halep wide on her backhand with big hitting, Cibulkova overpowered the Romanian to take the set.

The second set was a tighter affair, with both players exchanging breaks of serve until it was 4-4.

Although Halep's steady retrieving kept her in the set, Cibulkova eventually prevailed with her aggressive play and deep shots.

Halep declined to speak about her knee but said: "I think she saw that my backhand was not very strong because of the leg, it was not easy for me to push. But she played well; I think she played good tennis and she deserves to win."

Reflecting on what she could have done better, the 2014 finalist added: "She was dominating the match with her forehand and I was very far back. I should have mixed my shots a little bit more, played wider and made her run."

Eighth-ranked Cibulkova will play Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is guaranteed top spot in the White Group, in tomorrow's semi-final. Kerber will face either Karolina Pliskova or defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska.

This is the first time Kerber has made the knock-out round after three previous attempts but the German, whose passage was confirmed following Cibulkova's win, denied she was distracted.

She said: "This is always my goal: to go out there and win the match; it doesn't matter how.

"This was in my mind, and not that the match is not counted - for me, it's counted. Every match is counted."

Evaluating her potential opponents, Kerber added: "They are two completely different opponents. I know Aga very well and we both play very tough matches; I think we will have a lot of long rallies when I play against her.

"Against Pliskova it may be similar to today, her serve is very big and she goes for the ball on the first or second shot.

"Let's just see who will win, and then I will make a game plan on one of these opponents."

WTA FINALS

Day 6, session 1 & 2

StarHub Ch203, 1.30pm & 7.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Cibulkova reaches semis'. Print Edition | Subscribe