After counting down the Top 5 WTA tournament matches and biggest WTA upsets of 2018, our year-end review moves to the best Grand Slam clashes of the season.
First up is Dominika Cibulkova’s third-round revenge victory over Angelique Kerber, coming back from a set down to stun the former US Open champion in a three-set thriller.
After starting her US Open campaign with a hard-fought three setter over Arantxa Rus, and surviving an absolute scorcher over Hsieh Su-Wei that went well over three hours long, No.29 seed Dominika Cibulkova found no respite in her next match: she was set to face longtime nemesis Angelique Kerber in the third round.
The pair had already met twice before in 2018, but their rivalry goes back a decade and has taken many twists and turns - including a dramatic sequence at the 2016 WTA Finals in Singapore. After falling to Kerber in a close, round robin heartbreaker, Cibulkova avenged it in the championship match to lift the biggest trophy of her career.
Despite Cibulkova’s heroics, it was No.4 seed Kerber who came into the matchup with a comfortable 7-5 lead in the pair’s head-to-head record, and full of confidence after taking down Cibulkova twice earlier in the season.
But there was one omen in Cibulkova’s favor heading into the match: it was set to take place on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, where many top seeds had already fallen, like Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza.
Cibulkova was aggressive from start to finish against Kerber, blasting 40 winners to the German's 23, and taking 62 percent of points on Kerber's second service. She had to make a comeback, though, as Kerber broke her in the very first game, and carried the momentum to weather Cibulkova’s dogged comeback efforts, closing out the set with a double break to the good.
Read the match report: Cibulkova knocks out Kerber in US Open third-round upset
Nevertheless, it was Cibulkova who came out on fire in the second set, blasting her rocket groundstrokes to break Kerber twice in a row and lead 3-0. Despite handing one of the break backs at love, Cibulkova stayed aggressive and leveled the match at 6-3.
The Slovak’s fighting spirit was on full display in the decider, fending off two break points and holding in the first game before breaking to love and grabbing a 3-1 lead. It was Cibulkova who emerged with the edge after three consecutive breaks of serve, putting her ahead at 4-2.
Cibulkova had no issues going forward, reaching match point at 5-3 behind a forehand winner, and converting it to claim the 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory - and add Kerber’s name to Armstrong Stadium’s growing legend.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 1, 2018
WHAT THEY SAID:
It was sweet revenge for Cibulkova, who admitted in her post-match press conference that she had those previous losses in the back of her mind during the match.
“This year I lost to Angelique twice, and even during those matches, I was playing pretty solid,” she said. “She just didn't give me any chance. So now we had to change something... and I was able to do it. It was something that I don't usually do, but I was able to do it and it was working 100%.”
“It's just a big boost of confidence. It's like my hard work is paying off. I'm happy to show it on my best tennis on the biggest stage in the world.”
Kerber, on the other hand, was left without answers but searching for positives during her press conference.
“It was a really tough battle against Domi again,” she said. “I had my chances, but I couldn't take it, especially in the third set. Also I was not able actually to play my best tennis in the important moment. She was going for it, and she hit the balls really good and played the winners when she has to. I think that was the difference about the match today.
“I tried my best, and, you know, every match is always tough, especially in the Grand Slams. Now I will just try to taking the good things about this trip and trying to doing better in the next trip.”
WHAT IT MEANT:
Cibulkova would bow out in the next round to Madison Keys, but the Slovak counts still counts it as a win: her fourth round run at the US Open ended up being her best performance in Flushing Meadows since 2010, when she reached the quarterfinals.
“The win against Kerber was really big, because I was doing something unusual on the court and it was really working for me and I was able to do it,” Cibulkova said after the loss to Keys.
“But finally after few years, I was able to do well at the US Open, and so when this loss will go away, I will feel good.”
That boost of confidence would carry her into the Asian Swing, and Cibulkova reached back-to-back quarterfinals at Wuhan and Beijing before ending her season as World No.25 and hitting the beaches at the Maldives.
For Kerber, the loss was just a blip in an otherwise stellar season that saw her claim her third Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, as well as pick up a WTA trophy in Sydney. The German qualified second for the WTA Finals - falling in the round robin stage - but, perhaps as a sign of late-season fatigue, she posted a 7-7 record after her Wimbledon heroics.