Welcome to Memory Lawn, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the grass seasons of the past five years. Following our retrospective of the best of Birmingham, we move to Eastbourne on the south coast of England to cover the historic Nature Valley International, a tournament that has been an integral part of the grass swing since 1974. Up next is Dominika Cibulkova's classic 2016 upset over top seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals.
2015: Bencic hits the big time with Radwanska victory
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Dominika Cibulkova was on the comeback trail in 2016, and her steady rise up the rankings was picking up steam heading into Eastbourne.
The Slovakian had posted the best Grand Slam result of her career in 2014, after a breakout run to the final at the Australian Open. But a year later, she was out of the tour recovering from Achilles surgery after a months-long battle with injuries.
She started 2016 with renewed drive, and it showed in her results: despite her ranking dropping as low as World No.66, Cibulkova tore through the draw in Acapulco en route to the final, lifted the trophy at the Katowice Open, and made her first Premier Mandatory final in Madrid.
The Cibulkova steamroller continued on pace in Eastbourne, where she battled through two rounds to book a quarterfinal clash with reigning WTA Finals champion Agnieszka Radwanska, ranked World No.3.
The two opponents were well acquainted: they had played each other 11 times previously, and for the third time that season. They had split their previous meetings, with Radwanska ousting Cibulkova in her opening match at Indian Wells and Cibulkova later returning the favor in Madrid.
Both matches turned out to be absorbing three-set battles, showcasing the clash in styles between the power-hitter Cibulkova and Radwanska’s delicate touch - and their quarterfinal clash in Eastbourne would prove to be another classic.
WHAT HAPPENED: Radwanska, the top seed and last year’s finalist in Eastbourne, took a comfortable lead with an early break in the first set. Cibulkova kept herself in the contest with her relentless aggression, applying the pressure on Radwanska - but despite trading breaks with her opponent Cibulkova couldn’t manage to close the gap.
With Radwanska leading 6-4, 3-2, the Pole found herself having to pack up her racquets as the rain that had threatened all day finally poured over Eastbourne, suspending play for the night.
Coming back the next day - and with the winner set to face a rested and waiting Monica Puig in the semifinals later in the day - it was Cibulkova who immediately broke to level, 3-3. Radwanska, who was famously stingy with her unforced errors, suddenly began to misfire as Cibulkova took control of the match.
Cibulkova fought off set point on her serve, 5-4, and dominated the tiebreaker to sent them into a final set. She was clutch in the important moments, and fired winners off both wings as she came back from a 3-1 deficit to sweep the last four games and claim the victory 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 after a grueling three hours and nine minutes on court.
WHAT THEY SAID: While Cibulkova was busy resting up before her impending semifinal against Puig, Radwanska gave a critical assessment of her performance in her post-match press conference.
"I don't think I was playing good enough today," Radwanska told press. "She was playing really aggressive, good tennis."
Having led by a set and a break the day before, Radwanska was also left wondering ‘what if’.
"Never know how it`s gonna happen if we finished that match yesterday. But definitely different conditions today," Radwanska mused.
WHAT IT MEANT: Straight after playing the match of the tournament, Cibulkova backed it up with a businesslike beatdown over Puerto Rican qualifier Puig 6-2, 6-1 to book her spot in the final.
"From the first match I was playing really, really good," said Cibulkova. "I just kept going. I also had no expectations."
The No.12 seeded Slovakian went on to defeat Karolina Pliskova in the final, claiming her first grass court title. The victory sent Cibulkova back into the WTA Top 20, and she showed no signs of slowing down. She posted a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon, defeating Radwanska once again in a classic three-setter along the way. After taking a break to get married on Final Sunday - she kept the momentum going in San Jose, where she made the semifinals.
The tireless Cibulkova finally seemed to run out of steam, and she wouldn’t reach another semifinal until late September. But once she got back in the groove, Cibulkova was once again the player to beat. She reached the final in Wuhan and captured the trophy in Linz, booking her spot into her first WTA Finals.
Cibulkova capped off the year with a victory over the WTA World No.1 Angelique Kerber in the final at Singapore, lifting her first WTA Finals trophy.