Dominika Cibulkova is the first to admit tennis is all about confidence. Regardless of how many times in practice her heavy blows paint the lines or how quickly she darts to all corners of the court, it matters little unless it is transferred to match day.
Fortunately for the Slovak No.2 seed a resounding 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens at the Connecticut Open on Friday will do wonders for resurrecting that belief.
“Finally I reach my first finals of this year,” Cibulkova said. “I won three very good and solid matches in a row, so this gives me a huge amount of confidence, what I was really looking for during the whole year.”
It has been a season in which a shoulder injury and form struggles have hindered her chances at building on a career-defining win in the WTA Finals n Singapore last year.
Now the 28-year-old is through to her first final since last year’s WTA Finals breakthrough.
She admitted to struggling under the new weight of expectation.
“I was in different position. I was No.4 or 5 in the world. I had to get used to it a little bit,’ Cibulkova said. “I was putting too much pressure on myself … Every single match I was approaching, I was favorite. I didn't approach it in a good way.
“Last year I was playing well because I was approaching like this, like yesterday, like today. I just going to the match, wanted to give my 100 per cent, not really think about a score, if I have to win or not.”
Cibulkova was ruthless in the opening set against Mertens, sealing it after just 33 minutes on her first ace.
She managed four winners less than the 21-year-old’s seven in the first set but her eight unforced errors paled in comparison to her opponent’s 20.
Mertens made a better fist of it in the second set, raising her aggression, particularly off the backhand wing, to take a 2-0 lead.
But the Slovak steadied to reel off six of the last seven games, breaking to love to seal the result with a lunging forehand volley.
“I'm getting older, I'm 28. All these girls are coming up, they're younger and younger,” Cibulkova said. “It's not easy to play against them. They are fearless, they have nothing to lose.
“I respect her as a player. She was playing really good today. Just my game was too solid. I was really just playing well and didn't let her do anything much on the court.”
Cibulkova will meet the winner of Friday night’s second semi-final between top seed and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska and unseeded Australian Daria Gavrilova.
The women’s doubles final will see Gavrilova’s compatriots Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua take on the Canadian-Chinese duo of Gabriela Dabrowski and Yifan Xu.
Second-seeded Barty and Dellacqua inflicted Mertens’ second defeat of the day in seeing off the Belgian and Czech lefty Kristyna Pliskova 6-2, 6-1 in just 46 minutes.
Fourth-seeded Dabrowski and Xu earlier accounted for American-British pair, Nicole Melichar and Anna Smith 7-5, 6-3.