MELBOURNE, Australia — No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia blasted past No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday. Cibulkova will face No. 4 Li Na in her first Grand Slam final on Saturday.
Cibulkova’s groundstrokes punch far above her weight class, but she’s struggled with consistency and mental focus throughout her career. Never a reliable player under pressure, the 24-year-old showed great poise and positive play over the last 10 days, which helped her reach her second Slam semifinal. She beat four seeds — No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 11 Simona Halep, No. 16 Carla Suarez Navarro and now No. 5 Radwanska — and won seven sets by a score of 6-0 or 6-1.
Of course, the big talking point after the match was Radwanska’s failure to show up. Radwanska played sublimely in an emotional three-set win over two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday, but she came crashing down to earth a day later. She hit 24 unforced errors, couldn’t take advantage of virtually any break points and struggled to protect and hold her serve.
This was the first time Radwanska has played back-to-back days this tournament, but that’s why players work to increase their fitness. As she walked off the court she put her towel into the camera lens to block it, clearly trying to hide the disappointment of once again failing to take advantage of a huge opportunity to win her first Slam title.
Game-by-game analysis of Cibulkova’s dominant win below:
12:50 a.m. ET | Dominika Cibulkova defeats Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 to advance to her first Slam final.
Of course it would end this way: Cibulkova breaks at love to seal the match. She falls to the ground in complete disbelief. What an incredible run of form for her these last two weeks. As Radwanska walks off the court she puts the towel over the camera. She has nothing to blame but herself during that match. She was non-existent throughout the match and couldn’t get herself out of the rut.
Here’s match point:
“To tell you the truth, yes,” Cibulkova says when asked about whether she was surprised about that first set. Good to know we weren’t the only ones. She says the most important game was when she held to 5-2 in the second set. “Then I knew I was gonna do it.”
That was a thorough beatdown from Cibulkova on the No. 5 Radwanska. Cibulkova’s numbers: 21 winners, 20 unforced errors, 6 of 9 break points, 12 of 14 net points won, and 88 percent of her returns in play. She won 63 points to Radwanska’s 40, an incredible 23-point differential.
— Kamakshi Tandon (@Kamakshi_Tandon) January 23, 2014
Never saw this coming. Cibulkova 6-1, 6-2. Where, oh where, did the Aga-magic go?
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 23, 2014
Small is the new big. #ausopen
— Douglas Robson (@dougrobson) January 23, 2014
12:43 a.m. ET | Radwanska breaks, trails *5-2.
Here’s a push from Radwanska, who gets on the board and then finally breaks on her 10th break point of the match. A little too late? It sure feels like it. She gets to 30-all on Cibulkova’s next service game, but the Slovakian knuckles down and finishes off the next two points. She’s a game away from the final.
I just had to duck out to run over to Li Na’s post-match press conference, and it’s safe to say she won’t mind this result.
12:27 a.m. ET | Cibulkova holds, leads 3-0*.
Radwanska gets to 0-40 on Cibulkova’s serve and can’t convert a single point. She doesn’t challenge a deep second serve that Hawk-Eye shows landed long and that would have given her the break. Instead, Cibulkova holds, and Radwanska is now 0 FOR 8 on break points today. She’s still won just a single game.
12:22 a.m. ET | Cibulkova breaks, leads *2-0.
Cibulkova does her thing, which involves sniffing the new tennis balls (no, really), and serves out the first game at love. She’s taking her cuts from two feet inside the baseline. Radwanska has to find a way to push her off the baseline. This is just batting practice for Cibulkova.
In case you’re wondering what Cibulkova keeps screaming, it’s “Pome!” which is Slovakian for “Come on!” It’s an obnoxious cry given how often she does it, and you can tell it gets under her opponents’ skin.
Cibulkova breaks at love with a huge forehand return winner. Radwanska still hasn’t won a point on her second serve; she’s not winning many on her first serve either (50 percent).
12:12 a.m. ET | Cibulkova wins the first set 6-1.
Radwanska gets to 30-all on Cibulkova’s serve but that’s as far as she can get. Two errors from Radwanska and Cibulkova holds. She’s full of confidence and positive energy.
Radwanska, on the other hand, is flat-footed, not bending low on her shots and just off. Cibulkova can go off the boil and completely drop her level when she starts thinking too much, but Radwanska is doing nothing to make her worry. Cibulkova converts set point with a big backhand. Radwanska has a lot of thinking to do on the changeover. This is a very disappointing showing so far.
Cibulkova: 10 winners, 11 unforced errors, 3 for 5 on break points, breaking in every game she had a chance.
Radwanska: 6 winners, 15 unforced errors, 0 for 5 on break points in that crucial fourth game.
12:05 a.m. ET | Cibulkova breaks again, leads *4-1.
This is one-way traffic for Cibulkova, who converts a break chance for a double-break lead. It’s just been a flat start for Radwanska, who isn’t executing her shots. She has 11 unforced errors in the set and she’s not getting the depth she needs to keep Cibulkova off the baseline. Her serving hasn’t helped either. She’s won zero points on her second serve and Cibulkova is zoning.
Today’s blog is fueled by Boost, by the way. Might be my favorite Aussie candy bar. Always a pleasure.
12:01 a.m. ET | Cibulkova holds, leads 3-1*.
Radwanska earns two break points and Cibulkova saves them with some big backhands. Radwanska had a look to redirect a forehand down the line for a winner but couldn’t control the pace of the shot and netted it. Cibulkova saves a third break point with good, aggressive hitting, finishing with a forehand at the net. Radwanska gets a fourth break point and, again, Cibulkova stands up to the pressure with some big hitting. She’s not missing as much as Radwanska needs her to.
Cibulkova saves five break points in that game and holds as Radwanska puts a forehand into the net. That was a big game for Cibulkova. It felt like Radwanska was starting to reel her in.
11:50 p.m. ET | Radwanska holds, trails *2-1.
Better form from Radwanska to build a 40-0 lead on her serve, but then she throws in back-to-back double faults and sends a backhand long, bringing the score to deuce.
I asked Radwanska after her win over Azarenka whether the experience of being the favorite last year at Wimbledon after all the top seeds crashed taught her how to deal with the situation this year. Last year she lost to Sabine Lisicki in the semifinals after beating Li Na, a crushing defeat. She didn’t give me much of answer, but she knows she can’t assume the finals are in the cards. She got a little ahead of herself at Wimbledon.
She finally gets on the board with a hold, but so far she’s not the convincing player. Cibulkova has been sharp.
11:45 p.m. ET | Cibulkova breaks, leads 2-0*.
Immediate break point for Cibulkova and she converts it with a big backhand wide that Radwanska can’t control. Let’s not panic yet, but Radwanska was broken just twice by Azarenka yesterday. She’ll need a few points to get her feel and range under these much hotter conditions. The only worrisome shot in that first game was the missed drop shot. Who knew she could miss a drop shot!
As further evidence of her lack of feel early, Radwanska has all day to hit a lob over the diminutive Slovak, and she sends it long. A few points later she sends an easy backhand slice into the tape. She’s already hit more unforced errors in two games than she did in the first set against Azarenka. Hmmm …
Radwanska gets to deuce on Cibulkova’s serve but goes for a backhand winner and misses. That’s five unforced errors through two games.
11:36 p.m. ET | Warm up
Radwanska wins the toss and she’ll serve first. The good news is that Radwanska isn’t sporting any more visible tape than she was yesterday in her win over Azarenka. It takes hard work to be a magician and Radwanska can come into the late stages of tournaments weary. For now, she’s just taped up on her right shoulder, which is status quo.
No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova will meet in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday. The match will follow the semifinal between Li Na and Eugenie Bouchard, which is scheduled to begin no earlier than 1:30 p.m. local time (9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday). ESPN2 will televise.
Radwanska, 24, is fresh off a dazzling display in an upset of two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka. That surprise victory — Azarenka had won seven meetings in a row –put her into the Australian Open semifinals for the first time. The crafty Radwanska will look to get Cibulkova on the run and keep the ball out of her strike zone.
Cibulkova, 24, also a first-time semifinalist here, has looked sharp in dropping only one set in five matches while ousting three top-16 seeds in Carla Suarez Navarro, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep. Cibulkova, a 2009 French Open semifinalist, has won six of 11 sets by a score of 6-0 or 6-1. She hits a big ball and goes for broke on her shots. If she’s zoning again, Radwanska will have her work cut out for her.
Here’s the range of how this match could go: Last year, Radwanska dropped a double bagel on a tearful Cibulkova in the final of the Sydney International. Seven months later, Cibulkova won 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Bank of the West Classic. That was Cibulkova’s only victory over Radwanska in six matches; the 24-year-old Pole won their most recent meeting, 6-4, 6-4 at the Pan Pacific Open in September.