Cibulkova drew a tough first-round match against Safarova, last year's French Open finalist. After suffering a bacterial infection that derailed her season, Safarova has slipped down the rankings and sits at No.43, making her a dangerous floater. But Cibulkova got the job done, edging past the Czech 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
"I was really relaxed and just doing what I could," Cibulkova explained. "I was really positive on the court. There were so many tough situations that I handled really well, and that's what made me win today. I'm really happy with my performance and I want to keep going like this."
Under the roof at the Ariake Tennis Forest Park, Cibulkova pounced on Safarova's vulnerable second serve to keep her under pressure throughout the first set. But the momentum soon shifted after Safarova finally won a second serve point to bat away Cibulkova's break point chance. Safarova found another gear, breaking Cibulkova's serve in the next game with a blistering cross-court backhand return.
Cibulkova rebounded in the second set, floating a drop shot just out of reach to grab an early break for a 3-1 lead. The drop shot was Cibulkova's go-to weapon throughout the match, employing nine of them during the three sets. A double fault from Safarova cost her a second break as Cibulkova quickly rattled off five games in a row to take the second set.
Both players wrestled with the momentum in the deciding set, trading breaks twice and keeping each other under pressure before Cibulkova finally got the edge at 6-5. She hit her boldest drop shot of the match to clinch the victory after two and a half hours.
? WTA (@WTA) September 20, 2016
"It was an extremely good match from both sides," Cibulkova assessed afterwards. "Lucie played really well and it was just about a few points."
"Today I felt really good out there, playing on the center court in my first match here."
Cibulkova sets up a clash with 18-year-old wildcard Naomi Osaka, Japan's No.2 player and a hometown favorite, in the next round.
"I've seen her playing a few times, she's a tall girl and has a very powerful serve - she's playing a very powerful tennis. It's going to be our first meeting, and it's always a tough match against these young players who are coming up and playing with nothing to lose."
"I lost to her twice before so I'm very glad that I could get my sweet revenge," Kvitova joked in her post-match interview. "It's never really easy to play her, her game doesn't suit my game. I played good in the important points, so I'm very happy for that."
Kvitova broke the American's serve three times and fought off six of her chances to ease past her in an hour and thirteen minutes. She'll take on Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig next for a spot in the quarterfinals.