By DAN IMHOFF
Fight fire with fire. It’s the sage advice Dominika Cibulkova and Daria Gavrilova will subscribe to as they duel for the 2017 Connecticut Open title on Saturday.
Two of the more diminutive competitors on tour, what both lack in height they make up for in grit, foot speed and sheer unconcealed emotion.
The enormous boost in confidence a victory in New Haven would provide to either woman is no secret.
The stakes, though, are somewhat different.
Cibulkova, the No.2 seed, enters favorite and after ending 2016 in the finest way possible – with victory in the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore – she arrives in her first final since that breakthrough.
By her own admission she has taken time to adjust to her newfound expectations.
A title would end that dry spell and resurrect her season.
“I just started to focus on myself much more, not to think about how it's going to be the result, I should win this, how it's going to be,” she said of putting too much pressure on herself in 2017.
“I was just thinking about that too much, I should be the one winning this one. It was just not working for me.
“But, I mean, I learned from my mistakes. I hope to keep up like this. I hope to continue with the way I play right now.”
For 23-year-old Gavrilova this is her second final of the season, just the third of her career. A maiden career title is on the line for the Australian.
Cibulkova and Gavrilova have met just once before in the second round at Wimbledon last year where the Slovak prevailed in two. Much has changed since, however.
“I think having played the final, two finals, gives me a bit of experience,” Gavrilova said. “But it's going to be a different match tomorrow, different emotions, yeah, another great opportunity.
“I played [Cibulkova] on grass. I felt like she was almost on top of her game there. She's obviously played really well, had a great year last year.
“I'll watch some vision tonight of her match from today and make some notes.”
Cibulkova had not strung together three straight match wins since her WTA Finals title run last season until her New Haven campaign.
Her toughest ask came in her opening three-set clash with Alize Cornet. Subsequent victories over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and qualifier Elise Mertens have steeled her for the decider.
Gavrilova, meanwhile, ground out tough wins over Kristyna Pliskova and Timea Babos before raising her game in straight-sets dismissals of Kirsten Flipkens and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska.
Gavrilova’s thoughts after ending Radwanska’s title defense on Friday night could well ring true again should she go on to deny the top two seeds in succession.
“I felt like I had to show her that I'm here and I'm going to fight for every point.”
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 took down Belgium's Elise Mertens and Czech lefty Kristyna Pliskova 6-2, 6-1 in just 46 minutes on Friday, while fourth-seeded Dabrowski and Xu earlier accounted for American-British pair, Nicole Melichar and Anna Smith 7-5, 6-3.