At the age of 24, Dominika Cibulkova is still a little too young to be called a tried and true tour veteran yet, but her experience showed when she quickly dispatched Simons Halep 6-3 6-0 to reach her first Australian Open semifinal.
The small yet strong and fast Slovakian played lights out on the day, cracking 17 winners, forcing Halep into 12 errors and only committing 16 unforced errors herself, a plus-13 differential.
“I'm really glad with the way I played, especially with the way I handled it mentally,” Cibulkova said. “It was a big win against Maria [Sharapova in the fourth round]. But I wasn't favorite in this match again against Halep. I walked on the court with the confident that I can do it again today. I was so focusing what I have to do, to do the right things. That was all what I wanted to do, and of course enjoy my tennis again.”
The 22-year-old Halep was contesting her first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal and looked uncomfortable on the big stage at Rod Laver Arena. It was the first time she has played on the tournament’s most important stadium in front of a packed house and she looked extremely nervous, as her normally steady attack disappeared and she committed 25 unforced errors.
Cibulkova does not own one of the tour’s strongest serves, but she hits about as hard as anyone off the ground and dictated for most of the match, ably stepping inside the baseline, hammering the Romanian in crosscourt rallies and going down the line when she had the opportunity.
Just like when she shocked world No.3 Sharapova in the fourth round, Cibulkova brimmed with confidence and was resilient. There have been times in her career when she has lost focus during big matches that she had appeared to have seized control of, but that was not the case against Halep, as she gave a superb performance.
Cibulkova has had some terrific wins over elite players before, including reaching the 2009 Roland Garros semis, but she has also taken some devastating losses. She has worked very hard to put those behind her and move on
“That's something of course that is not easy, because if you have such a bad loss against somebody, you come into this match, you know what happened in the past and you cannot forget it,” she said. “You just have to go against it to be stronger than what happened before. So [Stan] Wawrinka, he beat [Novak] Djokovic last night. There was something also what happened to me in the past.”
Cibulkova stayed up late on Tuesday night watching Wawrinka and Djokovic battle it out, but at 4-4 in the fifth set she asked her boyfriend to shut off the TV because she couldn’t afford to come on court on Wednesday morning tuckered out.
But she admitted to pulling for Wawrinka, who like her is Slam-less.
“I was cheering for him,” she said. “I know what does it mean to lose such a match like he lost last year. I never play on five sets, but I lost matches like this before. I know what does it mean to be on the same spot against same player. You just want to prove it to yourself that you can do it, and that's what he did it.”
Cibulkova will play fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinal, whom she is 1-5 against, but whom she turned the tables on last year. At Sydney in 2013 the Pole trounced her 6-0 6-0 in the final. But six months later in the final of Stanford, Cibulkova overcame Radwanska 3-6 6-4 6-4 to win the title.
“It's going to be very tough,” she said. “[She’s a] big fighter and a great player. It just gives me enough confidence to go into this match. I know what I have to do. We know each other really well. We are the same age. We played so many times each other. For sure it's going to be really, really tough match. I just want to keep my focus to stay aggressive.”