Australian Open 2014: Underdog Dominika Cibulkova upsets Agnieszka Radwanska to set-up final against Li Na

Semi-final thrashing came after Na saw off 19-year-old sensation Eugenie Bouchard with the pair set to collide on Saturday

Paul Newman
Thursday 23 January 2014 19:30
Dominika Cibulkova celebrates after beating Agnieszka Radwanska to progress to the Australian Open final
Dominika Cibulkova celebrates after beating Agnieszka Radwanska to progress to the Australian Open final

Marion Bartoli may have retired, but the Wimbledon champion’s spirit survives in the shape of one of her best friends. Dominika Cibulkova, who will meet Li Na in Saturday’s women’s singles final here at the Australian Open, revealed that she had been inspired by Bartoli’s success at Wimbledon last summer.

Cibulkova, who will become the first Slovakian to play in a Grand Slam final, extended her remarkable run of results by beating the world No 5, Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-1, 6-2 in just 70 minutes. The world No 24 had also beaten higher-ranked opponents in her three previous matches, knocking out Carla Suarez Navarro, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep.

“Marion was a big inspiration,” Cibulkova said. “We are very close friends. When she won Wimbledon I knew she was working so hard for it. She was the one who deserved it so much. When she won Wimbledon, I knew everything is possible.”

Bartoli, who retired within weeks of the greatest win of her career, has been here working for television and has been encouraging Cibulkova. “Straight after my semi-final she came into the gym to see me,” Cibulkova said. “She hugged me. We were both crying. She was so happy for me.”

Radwanska had beaten Victoria Azarenka, the defending champion, in the previous round but was given the run-around by Cibulkova, who chased down every shot and hit a succession of winners from both flanks. Radwanska admitted that previous efforts had taken their toll and said it had felt as if she was playing in slow motion.

Cibulkova reached the semi-finals of the French Open five years ago but her achievements since then have been modest. At 5ft 3in she is one of the smallest players in the modern game, but proved with her aggressive play against Radwanska that she still packs a big punch.

“It’s not about how tall you are,” Cibulkova said. “Even if you are tall, it doesn’t mean that you are 100 per cent going to make it. It’s just you have to really want something and just believe in it. There is nothing more important than this.”

Li, who beat Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4 in her semi-final, will go into Saturday’s match as the favourite. The 31-year-old Chinese has an excellent record here, having finished runner-up in 2011 and 2013, and also has a Grand Slam title under her belt. In 2011, she became the first Asian player of either sex to win a Grand Slam singles title when she won the French Open.

Bouchard rarely threatened after making a dreadful start, losing 20 of the first 23 points in just 14 minutes. Li, who saved a match point against Lucie Safarova in the third round, had to work harder in the second set but still ran out a comfortable winner.

Cibulkova has lost all four of her matches against Li but after her performances here she will not be lacking in confidence. “You need to be 100 per cent sure you can do it,” she said. “I know I can do it. It’s big pressure to play in a final, but I still want to enjoy it on the court. I don’t want to suffer on the court.”

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