BEIJING, China - Anastasija Sevastova emerged on top of an all-unseeded quarterfinal at the China Open, coming from a break down three times in the second set to defeat Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 7-6(5) and progress to the last four of a tournament for the sixth time this season.
With the win, the Latvian reprised her second-round triumph over Cibulkova in this tournament eight years ago, a match she won 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 en route to her maiden Premier Mandatory quarterfinal, and gained revenge for a 6-3, 6-1 first-round loss to the former World No.4 in Sydney this January.
Sevastova was forced to fend off two break points in a mammoth opening service game, but strong serving held off Cibulkova's relentless attack. The US Open semifinalist was similarly sharp in the next game: when the Slovak offered up two double faults to trail 0-30, Sevastova pounced, winning the next two points outright on return with big strikes off each wing.
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Though Cibulkova would come through a titanic tussle in the fifth game of the set, staving off two break points for the double break and fighting through six deuces to hold, the World No.30 was unable to gain any further traction on the Sevastova serve in the set. Meanwhile. although she would be the more aggressive player from the baseline over the course of the match, the resultant slew of unforced errors far outweighed her gains from the strategy: in total, the 29-year-old would commit 44 mistakes to only 21 winners, with the drive volley particularly letting her down in the first set. Two more back-to-back errors, one off each wing, would concede a second break and the first set in the ninth game.
The second set saw Cibulkova improve her inroads into the Sevastova delivery as she broke three times, with her off forehand and dropshot paying particular dividends. But the 2016 WTA Finals champion would continue to be plagued by double faults at inopportune junctures: a fifth would hand the first break back immediately, and her tally would reach eight by the end of the day.
Moreover, although Sevastova would occasionally become too passive in the face of Cibulkova's all-out play, and would struggle with 23 unforced errors herself, the 28-year-old would have a much sharper grasp on the momentum of the match. Often, the Bucharest champion would bring out her most positive play to keep herself in touch and to halt Cibulkova's momentum.
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A backhand winner down the line would prevent the former Australian Open finalist from serving the second set out; another would open the ensuing tiebreak. Each were reminders to Cibulkova that she would have to continue to force the issue to gain a win - an approach that had not been successful thus far, and would continue to lead to overpressing her shots in the deciding game.
As Sevastova carried on playing within herself and steering the ball around the court, Cibulkova would continue to go for glory shots - and on the final two points, a forehand down the line would go long by inches and a drive volley sitter would sail over the baseline by rather more.
Nonetheless, the Budapest and Strasbourg runner-up can be content with back-to-back quarterfinal showings in Wuhan and Beijing, her first in 19 months since her consecutive semifinals at St Petersburg and Doha last year. Sevastova, meanwhile, moves on to battle for her maiden Premier Mandatory final against the unstoppable US Open champion Naomi Osaka in the next round.