CARLSBAD, CA, USA - Dominika Cibulkova survived a big-serving opponent while Marion Bartoli survived some service yips, and at the end of the day they both made it through to the final of the Premier-level Mercury Insurance Open.
The No.2-seeded Cibulkova was the first to advance, winning a marathon first set then cruising through the second to beat No.4-seeded Nadia Petrova, 76(8) 61. Petrova served for the first set at 6-5, won the first four points of the tie-break and even had a set point a few minutes later at 6-5, but Cibulkova held on every time to clinch the set. Petrova cooked up nine aces during the match.
"It's not very easy to play tie-breaks against players who serve that well," Cibulkova said. "When I was down 4-0, I told myself not to give up. I wanted to make it as tough as I could for her and fight for every ball. That's tennis. She can miss one easy ball, I can hit something good, and I can still win it."
The last time the two played, at the grass court tune-up in 's-Hertogenbosch, Petrova crushed Cibulkova. "Yeah, she beat me 2 and 0, but she was playing unbelievable," the Slovak said. "She's someone who you never know how she's going to play. Today she played well but also made mistakes she didn't make in 's-Hertogenbosch. I came into this match confident because I knew I beat her I think three times on hardcourts, so I knew I could beat her if I played well."
Petrova has served up the second-most aces of any player on the WTA this year with 182 - the leader is, of course, Serena Williams, who has hit 282.
The night session saw the No.1-seeded Bartoli take on Taiwanese qualifier Chan Yung-Jan. Bartoli double bageled Chan in their only previous meeting but this time couldn't have been more different. Chan came out firing, taking the first set, 6-1, while Bartoli struggled on serve with 14 double faults. But the No.10-ranked Frenchwoman's powerful ground game brought her through, as she fought back to win the next two sets and move into the final, 16 63 63.
"Even though I lost the first set 6-1, there were a lot of tough games in the set, so I tried to stay really focused and positive and I'm glad I was able to turn it around," Bartoli said. "When I broke her in the beginning of the second set I think she started to feel not that confident, because before that I was really struggling with her serve. I think my mental toughness helped me go through."
Chan, who had upset No.3 seed Jelena Jankovic a day earlier, was the second qualifier at the Mercury Insurance Open ever to reach the semifinals, following Ann Grossman's run to the final in 1988 (losing to Stephanie Rehe).
Bartoli and Cibulkova are tied in their head-to-head series, 2-2, but all of those meetings came in 2008 - they haven't played in almost four years.
"Dominika and I love to practice with each other. We've practiced many times. We have been best friends since so many years now," Bartoli said. "It's obviously a final, so we're going to try our best to win, but it's great to play against your best friend, because even if you lose, you're happy for them."