Sydney: Radwanska d. Cibulkova
If the first 11 games were any indication, there was only one way today's Sydney final would end for Dominika Cibulkova: As badly as possible. Serving down 6-0, 5-0—and love-40—the world No. 15 was facing the greatest possible deficit in a tennis match. A rash of errors and a vastly superior performance from Agnieszka Radwanska added up to the lopsided score, but for one moment, Cibulkova was a winner: She struck an inside-out forehand beauty that made it 15-40.
On the next point, she double-faulted. Game, set, and match Radwanska, 6-0, 6-0.
This was no "Golden Match" by Radwanska, the world No. 4 who has now won back-to-back titles to start 2013, but a shutout final is an incredibly rare happening. The last time it happened in the WTA, according to Twitter, was in 2006 at Quebec City, when Marion Bartoli embarassed Olga Puchkova.
But if Radwanska was not exactly flawless, she was the worst opponent Cibulkova could face on a day where she struggled mightily. Radwanska made Cibulkova hit shot after shot, which became error after error, both on service and return games. Cibulkova didn't win a single one, of course, and serving became an even greater mental challenge than it already is. Afterward, Cibulkova said that by 6-0, 1-0, all she was thinking about was the score. See, my fellow rec players: The pros are just like you and I sometimes.
On one level, it's not a surprise that Radwanska dominated, the score notwithstanding. The medium-pace hard courts used throughout the Australian summer suit her game, as she'd demonstrated last week in Auckland. She hasn't dropped a set this year, and despite her Slam-less résumé, it would be foolish to disregard her chances in Melbourne. Radwanska can't face Victoria Azarenka or Serena Williams, two of her tormentors, until the final, and she beat possible semifinal opponent Maria Sharapova last year in Miami. What Radwanska lacks in power, she should make up for in confidence, and anything less than a semifinal showing must be considered a disappointment.
Speaking of disappointments, this is an incredibly strange result for Cibulkova, a popular sleeper pick at majors and a player no one likes to face. The undersized pro has posted some headline-worthy results in recent years, including a win over Azarenka at the 2012 French Open. It was certainly hot outside today, but Cibulkova didn't appear to be hampered by injury or poor fitness, and she'd beaten Sara Errani and Angelique Kerber en route to the final.
In the end, you probably just have to call this a bad day for the Slovak and move on, which is what Cibulkova should do. But that's easier said than done, and I agree with TENNIS.com contributor Matt Cronin that this result could be damaging for Cibulkova's Aussie Open aspirations. Tennis Channel commentator and former player Ashley Harkleroad took the high road, however, saying that Cibulkova should be proud of her play this week. If you say so, Ashley, but there's no sugar-coating this double bagel.