ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Defending champion Kristina Mladenovic has a singles result to smile about, as the No.4 seed has advanced to the quarterfinals of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy with a victory over 2017 semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, 6-4, 6-4.
"What can I say?" mused Mladenovic during her on-court, post-match interview. "I come in here, and from the first moment, I was super happy, and kind of proud, and having very positive vibes. Like last year I felt like I haven’t left this place. St. Petersburg is definitely magic for me, and I feel like home, like this is my home."
The World No.10 from France keeps her hopes of defending her first WTA singles title alive, as she is still riding high off of the momentum from capturing the second Grand Slam women’s doubles title of her career at the Australian Open last week with Timea Babos of Hungary.
Mladenovic’s defeat of former World No.4 Cibulkova also allows her to continue to chip away at her poor record against the Slovak. Cibulkova had a 5-1 head-to-head lead over Mladenovic coming into the match, but the Frenchwoman had won their previous encounter at the Australian Open in 2016, and now has claimed a second consecutive victory.
Moreover, the victory stops a 15-match losing streak in singles for Mladenovic, who picks up her first match win since defeating Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the first round of the Citi Open in August of last year.
"Everybody knows Dominika, she’s such a great player," Mladenovic continued. "This win means a lot because it was such a tough and great opponent, and I’m very glad with the way I played, and the way I actually handled my nerves and kept on going, fighting like I always do."
The hard-hitting encounter between two players who prefer to take charge of the rallies was not always particularly clean -- Mladenovic had nine double faults and 27 unforced errors. But the defending champion was able to get through the two tight sets with 22 winners, while Cibulkova only had 15, as well as 25 unforced errors. Mladenovic also won 73 percent of points on her first service.
The match started with some anxious play from Mladenovic, as she failed to convert any of the three break points she had in the first game of the match, and was quickly broken in the next game after being 30-0 up.
But at 2-0, a stunning backhand service return gave the Frenchwoman a break point, which she converted to get back on serve when Cibulkova hit a forehand unforced error long. Then, despite a handful of double faults, the big Mladenovic serve started to gel, and she held serve with ease in her next three service games.
At 4-4, the mounting Cibulkova errors took their toll, giving Mladenovic another break point, which she converted with an outstanding forehand crosscourt winner. Again, two double faults at 5-4 put her in peril, but Mladenovic staved off a break point before claiming the set after a huge forehand forced Cibulkova into an error.
Mladenovic's confidence was sky-high after taking the one-set lead, and she persisted with her aggressive, high-risk play for much of the second set, despite her singles struggles of late. After going up an early break, Mladenovic repelled two break points at 2-1, and held for 3-1 with an ace. A frustrated Cibulkova then ceded her serve once more, giving Mladenovic a double-break lead, only two games away from victory.
But the diminutive Slovak had one final push in her, as her rocketing forehands were suddenly falling into play more frequently. She broke Mladenovic for 4-2, and then held with a feathery drop shot for 4-3, putting as much pressure as she could back on the defending champion.
Mladenovic nearly succumbed to the pressure, having to stare down a break point which would have leveled the set at four games apiece. But the Frenchwoman overcame it with a powerful serve/forehand winner combination, and got through a protracted game to reach 5-3.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Mladenovic steeled herself and got to double match point after a Cibulkova backhand error went into the net. Understandably, it took the World No.10 a moment to get acclimated to the occasion, and she double faulted on her first match point. But on the second, a high rally forehand was too much for Cibulkova to successfully put back into play, and a relieved Mladenovic chalked up her first singles win in months.