INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - The BNP Paribas Open draw featured a full slate of intriguing second round possibilities, few more than No.5 seed Dominika Cibulkova's against Jelena Ostapenko. The reigning BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global champion carved out a thrilling 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over the rising Latvian to book a third round meeting with Kristyna Pliskova.
"It was a really big fight," she told WTA Insider after the match. :I feel like I had to fight for every single ball because I wasn't feeling great on the court. It's hard to feel great against a player who doesn't give you rhythm. I won't say I was struggling but I had some hard times today; I tried to stay really strong and positive, fight for every single ball. I appreciate this win a lot becuase it was a tough one."
A former Wimbledon junior winner, Ostapenko came perilously close to handing a then-unbeaten Karolina Pliskova her first loss of the season at the Australian Open, and has been ranked as high as No.33 since reaching her first Premier 5 final at last year's Qatar Total Open.
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The teenager showed her full arsenel of power shots as day turned to night on Stadium 3, hitting 33 winners to 30 unforced errors through three sets, but was undone by her serve - hitting 10 double faults to just two aces in a match that was dominated by return.
"This match wasn't how I wanted it to be; I can play much better, but it also depends on the opponent. I knew it was going to be a hard one, so it didn't surprise me. I just had to fight for every single ball. I was glad with how I finished the match; I felt like myself in a few moments like those."
Cibulkova, by contrast, had something to prove after losing her last two matches in three sets, one in the semifinals of Doha to Pliskova, and another to Ekaterina Makarova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
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Dealing with the pressure of defending her breakout 2016 season, the Slovak was forced to dig deep during the two hour, 11 minute epic, shurgging off a shaky serving day of her own to hit six winners to just two unforced errors in the final set to ease into the round of 32.
"It doesn't matter how you play in practice, but I'd been practicing well. I had a few days off after Dubai and had a great week of practice. We changed a few things and I was feeling really great.
"I was going for my shots more in practice, playing more aggressively. Even if I made a mistake, my coach would remind me to be even more aggressive with my footwork and keep pressing."
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Standing between her and a spot in the second week is the left-handed Pliskova, who is starting to come out from the shadow of sister Karolina, who kicks off her Indian Wells campaign against Olympic champion Monica Puig later tonight.
"It takes time for me to adjust to lefties," Cibulkova said of her next match. "I have a strategy when I play them, and I try not to flip my patterns and think too much about it. I just have to return the same way, but mind the bounce. I've never played her before, and so it'll be a different one. This match should give me a good feeling, and the confidence to handle a match like this and to win it."
Pliskova roared past No.33 seed and 2016 quarterfinalist Daria Kasatkina, 6-0, 6-3, hiting five aces to advance in 64 minutes.
"I know how I can play and this wasn't even my best," Pliskova told WTA Insider. "I'm not that surprised to win, but I'm still happy because it was an easy score.
"I felt, especially in the second set after she called her coach, that she was trying to put every ball in. The second set was dangerous because if I missed a few shots she wasn't. But still, I play fast, and it's tough to put everything in - especially on the serve!"
Asked about playing Cibulkova, Pliskova debated whether to ask her sister for advice.
"I never played her, but I will maybe ask Karolina. Maybe she will tell me something, but she has a bad record against her too. Maybe I'll just stick to my plan. Last time she won, but last three times she lost, so maybe I won't even ask her!" she laughed.
? WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 11, 2017
Still, it's been a banner day for the top players despite the underdog heavy draw; all but two of the 16 seeds in action advanced. No.8 seed and Singapore semifinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova knocked out Sweden's Johanna Larsson, 7-6(3), 6-4; she'll next play No.26 seed Roberta Vinci, who earned a win over unseeded American Madison Brengle.
Coming through the toughest match of the day was No.10 seed Elina Svitolina, who extended her winning streak to 14 matches on Friday with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) win over China's Wang Qiang. It won't get any easier for the Ukrainian, who next faces former doubles partner and No.24 seed Daria Gavrilova; the Aussie eased past 2009 US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, 6-2, 7-6(5).
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No.17 seed Barbora Strycova won a rematch of last year's Dubai final over Sara Errani, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2; awaiting her in the third round is No.19 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who cruised past Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit, 6-4, 6-4.
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Indian Wells will also play host to a battle of surprise French Open semifinalists; No.15 seed Timea Bacsinszky reached the final four on the terre battue in 2015 and will play No.18 seed Kiki Bertens, who made the semifinals last year. Bacsinszky defeated Monica Niculescu, 7-5, 6-2, while Bertens handed an unhappy birthday present to newly 20-year-old Belinda Bencic, 6-2, 6-2.