Either Dominika Cibulkova is a bride developing cold feet or a woman who has reconnected with a champion lying dormant within her being. In a match of rare beauty and brilliance, Cibulkova engaged in a full-bodied contest against a mercurial Agnieszka Radwanska for a place in the quarter-finals. The two women brought an oft-employed cliché to life, proving conclusively that sport does occasionally throw up situations where everyone and the sport is indeed the winner.
They call the seventh day at Wimbledon a "Manic Monday", considering that 32 of the best men and women contend on the day for a chance to reach the last eight. Tickets to the show are naturally valuable, but not many would have bargained for a stub to access court three.
At least not until Cibulkova and Radwanska turned it into an Amphitheatre for their colossal contest. The match itself ended in favour of the Slovak — 6-3, 5-7, 9-7 but it was a night where the result barely mattered.
The two women produced an epic that will remain etched into Wimbledon folklore as the night when women’s tennis made a stunning statement of intent. Radwanska withstood a brutal forehand assault by Cibulkova to survive a match point and force the decider.
Unbelievably, the Slovak managed to keep her head in place, despite twice being broken while serving for the match. She also endured a time violation at a critical juncture in the final game before prevailing over the 2012 finalist.
The three-hour match was a seat-edge thriller that saw match points saved by both Cibulkova and Radwanska. The match came alive late in the second set when Radwanska, who lost to the same opponent in Eastbourne, simply refused to budge this time.
In fact the match seemed set for a routine finish when the Slovakian set out to serve for the match at 5-4 in the second set. But Radwanska, the woman with myriad magic tricks, produced a timely effort to save a match point and win three games in a row to push the match into a decider.
The stark contrast in the styles of the two women made for an exciting clash. Cibulkova’s agility and strength produce a power packed array of shots, while Radwanska relies on her magical touch around the court.
The one thing that was lacking earlier on in the match was intensity. But the duo seemed intent on making up for lost ground, as they turned it up several notches in the final set. The quality of tennis was often insanely brilliant, as the women started to paint the lines with ridiculous regularity.
Break points came and went but there was none more obvious than the ones missed by Cibulkova in the eleventh game. In fact she missed five of them as excitement mounted inside the intimate setting of court three.
It must have been the frustration that lingered on from her inability to close out the match when she had a chance in the second set. Cibulkova suffered a poor service game in the twelfth, conceding a match point to the pugnacious Pole.
The forehand had been a staunch ally to Cibulkova and it came to the rescue just when she needed it the most. The diminutive Slovak produced a stunning down the line winner under pressure to stay even at 6-6.
Drama reached fever pitch when Cibulkova broke serve for a 7-6 lead, only to surrender the break immediately to keep the match on court. Both women were playing an insanely high level of tennis despite the mental and physical demands of this attritional battle.
At 30-30 in the decisive 16th game, the umpire decided to dole out a time violation to Cibulkova, costing her a first serve. The 18th ranked woman took it in her stride and retained composure, as she had throughout the see saw match.
The mental fortitude of Cibulkova and Radwanska provided for a tremendous spectacle as the two women put every last cell on the line to find victory.
It was an incredible experience to watch a match of such high intensity and quality. The two women combined to produce 93 winners to just 59 unforced errors. Cibulkova maintained a high level of first serves in play, 74% to be precise.
Radwanska was not doing too bad either on that count. She was putting over 61% of her first serves into play, as she sought to control the rallies and prevent Cibulkova from inflicting serious damage with her forehand.
It was also impressive for a woman who has made just one quarter-final in eight previous visits to Wimbledon, to win 20 of 27 points at the net. The real story though lay firmly beyond the numbers.
It was a battle between two celestial women who were bent on finding the answers needed for victory, despite overwhelming odds. It was thrilling to watch and experience — the match was as much a mental duel as it was a physical bout on court.
Cibulkova and Radwanska can clearly lay claim to having played one of the best matches in recent memory. If not for the fact that this was just the third round, it would have gone into legend as one of the finest contests on the green meadows of SW19.
"I would say it was the toughest match in my career so far, physically and also mentally," admitted a weary Cibulkova.
Back to the topic of the bride, you may have already heard of the romantic story of Cibulkova and her boyfriend Miso Navara. The two planned to get married this coming Sunday, working out elaborate details well ahead of Christmas last year.
"We chose this (date) because I never saw myself as such a great grass court player," said a disarmingly transparent Cibulkova. "But winning Eastbourne and now being in the quarter-finals I would change my mind.
"But it's no problem. We can postpone it (the wedding). I'm still here and I'm playing my match tomorrow."
Neither the groom nor bride may have thought too much of Cibulkova’s chances at Wimbledon. With each passing victory though, Mr. Navara may simply have to wait outside the tramlines for his ladylove to complete her Wimbledon engagement first.
First Published On : Jul 5, 2016 12:27 IST