BIRMINGHAM, Great Britain - Lucie Safarova pulled off an epic win over reigning BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global champion Dominika Cibulkova, defeating the No.3 seed for the second time in 2017, 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-5, to reach the second round of the Aegon Classic.
"I guess we're both big fighters," Safarova said of the see-saw nature of the epic during her on-court interview. "Against Dominika, it's always such a tough match. We both played great today, and no one wanted to lose, so it kept going. I'm really excited that I won it."
Safarova had only beaten Cibulkova once in six matches before the 2017 season, but began turning around that head-to-head at the Miami Open, where she ousted the Slovak en route to the quarterfinals.
"We know each other's games very well, and we're good friends, too. It's a very strong tournament and a tough match-up for a first round. I'm just so pleased I won it."
Cibulkova enjoyed plenty of success on grass last year, winning the Aegon International in Eastbourne and going on to reach the last eight at Wimbledon ahead of her wedding.
Coming off her first-ever WTA doubles title at the Ricoh Open last week with Kirsten Flipkens, the No.3 seed appeared to be in control for most the first two sets, twice getting within a game of victory in the second.
Safarova held her nerve - and her serve - both times to force a tiebreak. Twice trailing match points, the 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist saved both to force a deciding set.
"That's the beauty of tennis: until the last point is finished, you can still turn it around and win it. That's what I tried to do, always believing I could do it. I'm really happy I did."
Undaunted, Cibulkova edged ahead an early break, eventually leading 4-2, only to see Safarova surge back, winning five of the next six games to clinch victory after a two hour, 40 minute marathon.
A sparkling serving day certainly helped the Czech veteran over the finish line, hitting 15 aces to just five double faults, and winning 75% of her first serve points.
Up next for Safarova is Japanese youngster Naomi Osaka, who won a tense match of her own against American Lauren Davis on Monday.