SYDNEY, Australia -- In a battle between two former Sydney International finalists, Australian wild card Samantha Stosur thrilled her home-country fans with a come-from-behind first-round victory over frequent rival Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
2005 Sydney runner-up Stosur had won their first five matches, all in straight sets, between 2009 and 2014, but after that, 2013 Sydney finalist Cibulkova had claimed two straight-set wins over the last two years. However, World No.74 Stosur reclaimed the dominant position in their head-to-head on Monday night, clinching victory in their first-ever three-set tussle after two hours and 21 minutes of play.
Stosur turned the match around thanks to increased efficacy from her serve and forehand; the Australian blasted 44 winners, including an astounding 15 aces, thereby outpacing her 38 unforced errors. World No.25 Cibulkova had three more unforced errors than winners, and could only convert one of her seven break points in the tilt.
In the second round, Stosur will face Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky. The former Top 10 player, on the comeback trail, upset No.9 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4.
Cibulkova started the encounter by finding her way into a number of games on Stosur’s serve. Stosur had to fend off two break points with well-timed serves to hold for 2-2, but the Australian was unable to repeat the trick in her next service game, as Cibulkova took a 4-2 lead after a wide forehand miscue on break point.
The Slovakian cruised to a one-set lead from there, dominating with forehand winners to hold for 5-2, and reaching triple set point two games later behind that shot. A double fault cost Cibulkova her first chance, but on the second, Stosur fired a backhand long to end the opening frame.
Cibulkova, who did not face a break point in the first set, was close to going up a quick break in the second set as well, holding four break points in the opening game. But Stosur staved off each of them, as the Australian began to find more effective placement on her serves, and crushed an ace to hold for 1-0.
The loss of those opportunities proved pivotal for the trajectory of the set, as Stosur claimed her first chances to break in the match, reaching triple break point in the next game. A backhand error by Cibulkova on the second break point gave Stosur a 2-0 lead, and suddenly, the set had turned on its head.
The Australian had found an effective serve-and-forehand combination which was paying off with dividends at this juncture, reminiscent of her form earlier in the decade when she reached World No.4 and won the 2011 US Open. This prevented Cibulkova from holding another break point for the remainder of the set, and Stosur smoothly held through to level the match at one set apiece.
As the players entered their first-ever three-set match against each other, Cibulkova briefly quelled Stosur’s momentum by erasing three break points in the opening game of the decider, eventually slamming a forehand winner to hold for 1-0.
But the Slovakian let a 40-15 lead slip in her subsequent service game, hitting consecutive double faults to bring up another break chance for Stosur, and then handing the 2-1 lead to the Australian with a forehand unforced error into the net.
Stosur held serve with ease for the rest of the match, with the only hiccup being a rain delay in the middle of the 3-2 game which kept the players in their chairs for a handful of minutes. At 5-4, another forehand blast gave Stosur triple match point, and a long service return two points later by Cibulkova ended the affair and swept Stosur into the second round.
More to follow...