By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
STANFORD, Calif. — Dominika Cibulkova hopes her latest WTA Tour final goes better than her last. Agnieszka Radwanska would love to make her relive that nightmare.
Both will get the chance today.
Cibulkova coasted past Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-0 in the Bank of the West Classic semifinals Saturday. A few hours later, the top-seeded Radwanska overcame a shaky start to beat American Jamie Hampton 6-3, 6-2 with relative ease.
The third-seeded Cibulkova has won twice on tour and last advanced to a final in January in Sydney, where she lost 6-0, 6-0 to Radwanska. It was the first whitewash in a final since November 2006 and only one in Cibulkova’s career.
“Tennis is a lot about mentally,” Cibulkova said. “If you will see that match, you will not believe it can be like that because I was putting pressure all the time. All the first six or seven games of that match I had game point or break point, and I just couldn’t make it. It was like something really bad was happening. I was down 6-0, 3-0 and I was only thinking about one thing — just to make one game, and it didn’t happen. It was really bad.”
Now Cibulkova will have a chance for a double-dose of redemption.
Radwanska, ranked No. 4 in the world, has 12 singles titles — including 10 on hard court. She won back-to-back tournaments at Auckland and Sydney to start the year and hadn’t advanced to a final since she crushed Cibulkova down under.
Radwanska regrouped against Hampton after dropping her serve twice in the first set, breaking back in the following game both times. The Wimbledon semifinalist earned the decisive break at 5-3 by forcing Hampton to sail a backhand long.
The smooth-swinging Polish player put away the match with an overhead winner for a service break at 2-1 in the second set, then pushed Hampton — who beat her earlier this year at Eastbourne — around the court to grab the next three games and set up a finals rematch she believes will offer more drama than earlier this year.
“Didn’t really expect that, especially in the final,” Radwanska said. “She was playing great matches in Sydney and then suddenly I think she was a little bit too nervous in the final. And then game by game she was getting (frustrated) too much. But I don’t think she’s the kind of player that can do that again.”
Cibulkova’s game has seemed to come a long way the last seven months.
In the semifinals, Cibulkova controlled the pace and played patient and near-perfect tennis against an opponent who folded fast. The third-seeded Cibulkova saved all six break points in the first set and often stayed back on the baseline waiting for Cirstea to make mistakes.
The approach helped Cibulkova go ahead 5-3 in the first set and sweep the second set to cruise into the final on the sun-splashed Stanford campus. Cibulkova has played the event the past six years and had never advanced beyond the semifinals, losing to Cirstea in the quarterfinals a year ago.
This time, her penetrating strokes had Cirstea constantly on the move. The hard-hitting Cibulkova forced her to net a forehand and then a backhand wide for a break at 4-3 before holding off five breaks in her next service game to take command.
With one loss avenged, Cibulkova now has a shot for another in consecutive days.
Cibulkova, No. 25 in the world rankings, won in Carlsbad last year and in Moscow in 2011 for her only WTA titles. But the loss in Sydney had her questioning herself for weeks.
“It really affected my game for a few tournaments after,” she said. “It was a pretty bad experience. When I came to the Australian Open, the first match I was just thinking, ‘OK, you have to make a game now because it’s really important. It wasn’t easy. It kept coming back to me a few tournaments, but I think it’s over.”
While some players might’ve shied away from the experience, Cibulkova faced it firsthand. She watched the replay of the match — “just the first set,” she said — and saw her confidence evaporate with every stroke.
Asked why she would put herself through watching such a devastating defeat, she replied, “I have to learn from it.”