NEW HAVEN, CT, USA - No.2 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia raced into her first final of 2017 at the Connecticut Open on Friday, easing past Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens, 6-1, 6-3.
"Finally!" exclaimed Cibulkova, when she was told it was her first final appearance of the year, during her on-court post-match interview. "After not an easy year for me, I'm finding my form. I'm really happy to start it here."
In the first meeting between the two players, Cibulkova handily prevailed in a hard-hitting affair which took one hour and nine minutes.
"It wasn't easy the whole match," Cibulkova continued in her post-match interview. "But I had a very high level of tennis. I was hitting the ball pretty hard, and I was not letting her play what she wanted to play. I was trying to be dominating on the court, and that's what happened."
Cibulkova started the match by jumping out to a 3-0 lead, breaking Mertens in her first service game after a powerful crosscourt backhand forced a Mertens backhand long.
A crosscourt forehand winner gave Cibulkova a second break and a 5-1 lead, and the Slovakian closed out the set 6-1 with a love service game, punctuated by an ace on set point.
Mertens, making her first appearance in the New Haven main draw, was totally undone in the first set by 20 unforced errors, compared to only nine winners.
The Belgian tried to reverse the momentum early in the second set. She claimed a 2-0 lead when Cibulkova was broken for the only time in the match, after the second seed hit a backhand into the net on break point.
But Cibulkova put the set back on serve at 2-1 after a shocking short return ended up being a clean winner.
Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist, then had to save two break points serving down 3-2, but held on.
The former World No.5 cruised to victory from there, breaking for a 4-3 lead when Mertens double faulted on break point. She broke the Belgian once more, at love, for a decisive 6-1, 6-3 win.
Mertens hit some fine backhands throughout the match, but was unable to consistently summon the form which propelled her to her first WTA title in Hobart earlier this year. She finished the match with 32 unforced errors, more than doubling her 15 winners.
Cibulkova, on the other hand, used her typically exceptional footspeed and solid depth on her groundstrokes to advance to the final. Importantly, she converted five of the seven break points she held during the match, and lost serve only once.
On Saturday, Cibulkova will contest her first final since her championship run at last year’s WTA Finals in Singapore. She will take on the winner of Friday night’s semifinal between Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, the No.1 seed and defending champion, and Daria Gavrilova of Australia.