There were three players on center court in Miami for the first women’s quarterfinal on Wednesday afternoon: Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova, and the wind that swirled around them. For much of the match, it was hard to tell which of the three was going to end up the winner. There were 19 breaks of serve and 10 double faults between the two women, as they tried to adjust everything from their ball tosses to their ground-stroke targets over the course of three rugged, draining, roller-coaster sets.
For most of the first two, it looked as if Radwanska, the more versatile and varied of the two players, would be the one to find a way through. After the two opened the match with five straight breaks, Aga held for 4-2 and ran out the set. Cibulkova began the match going for too much, too soon in rallies, but even when she took her coach’s advice and tried to work the points more patiently, Domi struggled to find a balance between being aggressive and maintaining her margin of error.
In the second set, when Radwanska came back from 0-40 to pull off a rare hold for 5-4, and then reached match point on a vintage Aga-esque crosscourt backhand pass, it looked like the world No. 3 was heading for the semifinals.
In fact, for the space of a few seconds, Radwanska was heading for the semifinals. On her first match point at 5-4, she knocked a backhand return down the line that was called in for a winner. But Cibulkova challenged, and the ball was shown to have landed an inch or so long. Twice more in that game Radwanska reached match point, only to watch Cibulkova wipe them away with winners. Domi finally held, and the two went to a tiebreaker a few minutes later.
There it seemed that Radwanska had put her disappointment behind her and would finally close it out. With Cibulkova back to going for too much, and trying her drop shot too often, Radwanska went up 5-2. But back came Domi, with three strong forehands to take a 6-5 lead. It seemed impossible to believe, but when Radwanska fired a forehand wide on the next point, she and Cibulkova were going to a third set.
At that point, ESPN’s Brad Gilbert said that for “99 percent of pros” in Radwanska’s shoes, it would be next to impossible to come back and win a third. And so it was. Despite giving us a no-look flick passing shot for the highlight reel, Radwanska didn’t have much left for the third; by the middle of the set, she was looking askance at her balky knee. Even worse, on the other side of the net, Cibulkova had finally hit herself into something resembling a groove. This time it was Cibulkova who knew when to hold ’em, as she closed with two service holds and a love break for a 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 win in two hours and 39 minutes.
Domi being Domi, the win came with a scream of delight and an immediate collapse to the court. And why not? The 24-year-old broke into the Top 10 for the first time, something she said she had been thinking about the entire match—if not her entire career.
“No one will say, ‘Oh you should be Top 10,’” a beaming Cibukova told Gilbert afterward, “and I will say, ‘Oh, I was there!’”
Cibulkova, one dream down, will try to keep her title hopes alive when she faces either Caroline Wozniacki or Li Na in the semis.