LONDON, Great Britain - Yet another seed fell at Wimbledon, as the unseeded Dominika Cibulkova dominated No.15 seed Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 14 minutes to make the second week at SW19 for the third time.
Though the Belgian is currently the higher-ranked of the two, Cibulkova had the superior pedigree at the All England Club: today's match pitted the two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist against a player who had never won a match here before this week. At her best, Cibulkova is an irresistible force on court - and although the 29-year-old is still rebuilding her ranking after an injury-beset 2017, she showcased some of her finest tennis today to make the second week of a major for the first time since Wimbledon 2016.
Both players started sharply, displaying a willingness to construct points with a view to finishing at net - a successful tactic for both, with nine out of 11 points won in the forecourt between the pair in the first set. The Slovak, though, was the more dynamic of the two off the ground. Searing groundstroke winners, particularly off the backhand, enabled her to control the tempo of the match; deep returns put Mertens under immediate pressure on her own serve, and elicited groundstroke errors on break point in the fourth game and on Cibulkova's first set point.
Though the Australian Open semifinalist attempted to deploy new tactics at the start of the second set, taking her backhand earlier in a bid to nullify Cibulkova's aggression. But the former World No.4 was sharp enough to halt any putative momentum switch in its tracks. Targeting the increasingly error-prone Mertens forehand, scorching backhands saved two break points in the second set's opening game - and a forehand winner and an ace repeated the trick two games later.
A three-time titlist this season in Hobart, Lugano and Rabat, Mertens was unable to find the same clear-headed play that has resulted in a career-best year so far - and as she fell to a 1-5 deficit, the 22-year-old's groundstrokes continued to break down, eventually tallying 19 off both wings.
Cibulkova is the highest-ranked unseeded player in the draw, having been bumped out of the list to make room for returning mother Serena Williams, but the World No.33 forged ahead in the manner of a player determined to prove a point. Only the final two games betrayed any weakness: serving for the match, Cibulkova offered up three double faults and spurned two match points to give Mertens a lifeline. Once again, though, she was in no mood to let the potential turning point take hold - and roared back from 40-0 in the very next game to seize victory on her fifth match point as yet another Mertens forehand found the net.
The 2016 WTA Finals champion has reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon both times she has previously made the fourth round - and she'll bid to keep her perfect record in the last 16 intact against Hsieh Su-Wei on Monday.