It is not the final we expected to see in the Generali Ladies Linz tournament, but Dominika Cibulkova will collide with Viktorija Golubic on Sunday for the right to crowned champion in Linz. Three of the four top seeds progressed to the semi-finals , which is very rare on the WTA tour with all the players chasing a place in Singapore doing very well this week in Austria.
The 2014 Australian Open finalist Cibulkova is yet to drop a single set throughout her 2016 campaign in Linz. She dominated former Top 10 player Belinda Bencic, was too powerful for Annika Beck and looked good in a straight sets win against defending champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
In today’s semi-final, the diminutive Slovak played a phenomenally entertaining match with Carla Suarez Navarro as both are on the cusp of qualifying for Singapore. Any slip ups for either player could prove terminal for their chances and it showed with both players putting every ounce of energy into every ground-stroke. They covered the court with ease and varied the play to the joy of the Austrian crowd, who looked on in amazement.
Cibulkova screamed in elation recognising the importance of the win over the Spaniard. The win puts her in the Top 8 in the Race and she overtakes Briton Johanna Konta in doing so. The World No.10 Cibulkova still has a lot of work to do in Moscow next week to ensure she gets on the plane to Singapore, but a title victory in Linz will not harm her cause whatsoever and she knows it:
“I know that some of the players do not want to know, but I tried to not know a few years ago and it was not the right way. Now I was checking who was getting the wild card for Moscow. I knew I have to play here minimum finals to have something from this tournament and it paid off. I know everything and it’s just pushing for what I see it as a challenge. This is the first time I’ve approached a tournament like this, where I have to make minimum finals and, as you can see, it’s working. I have one goal and I’m going for it 100%. So maybe this is the way I should play more times.”
I asked Cibulkova how extra-special it was for her to be back within the Top 10 places in the world after such a terrible achilles injury that required surgery last year:
“To come back after such an injury last year it just made me very strong, especially mentally, because it was hard to come back. It has given me a lot of confidence to know that I was able to do it in this hard competition.”
It will be the first ever meeting between Cibulkova and Golubic, so the 2011 Linz finalist Cibulkova does not know much about her. You would expect that Golubic has seen plenty of Cibulkova’s matches over the years, but Cibulkova answered me honestly in press saying she will rely on the words of her coach in the build up to tomorrow’s final.
“I know she won one WTA tournament this year. I know she beat some of the good players but we still have to do our work today with my coach to see her matches and y’know I’m glad to be in the finals and I want to keep playing this kind of tennis. And I hope it will be good.”
Cibulkova also said that she would not change her tactics against the Swiss because she has a one-handed backhand. She reiterated her desire to focus on the strengths of her own game rather than adapting to what the other player is doing. Further on she also mentioned that her mindset is always to be aggressive and to attack what she sees as the players weakness.
Golubic offers a similar proposition to Suarez Navarro for Cibulkova. She has an imperious one-handed backhand stroke and actually prefers to hit off that side in comparison to her forehand. Golubic has made six Quarter-Finals this year, won a tour title in Gstaad and now has the added benefit of being ranked high enough to play Grand Slam main draws regularly – she did just that at this year’s US Open.
What will be interesting is how Cibulkova approaches this match. Many naturally aggressive players try to pummel one-handed backhands into submission because of the lack of protection the one-hander has, but Golubic can create loads of magic with that gifted shot. Golubic has an effective defensive slice and a game-changing backhand down the line, which gives her greater options on the tennis court.
Will Golubic be able to handle the aggressiveness of Cibulkova’s game? Well, Cibulkova has been on a mission this week. She has played good players, great indoor players and has not even looked close to being defeated. The most satisfying things about watching Cibulkova is that when she puts all the pieces together she is a force to be reckoned with – even at just 5ft 3 in height.
As usual, Cibulkova will be looking for her forehand in the centre of the court. I still believe that Cibulkova is in the Top 3 on the WTA at capitalising on short, central balls, which is what all the great players do – they punish you if you give them an inch. Cibulkova’s strategy won’t be too cover the net, but to step halfway up the court to put away those easy forehands and keep the match on her terms.
This is the sixth final of Cibulkova’s season and just the second of Golubic. I think the fact that the higher-ranked Cibulkova is playing for a lot more as the season draws to a close, will play a major factor in this match. Even in her press conferences you get the feeling she is hungry and determined to make the Singapore finals and you just get the impression that nothing will stand in her way. Not injury. Not her opponent. Not this time.