Patience and persistence are virtues synonymous with Dominika Cibulkova. And both were needed in abundance en route to a trying victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the Connecticut Open quarter-finals on Thursday.
A watershed career triumph to claim last year’s WTA Finals in Singapore at age 28; a first career title in St Petersburg in 2011 in her seventh year on tour.
Now for the second time in as many matches the diminutive Slovak has rebounded from a slow start to progress in New Haven – this time a 7-5, 6-4 win over No.6 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
When play was temporarily stopped for 30 minutes for a fan to be assisted from the stands with Pavlyuchenkova serving at 5-6, it was Cibulkova who emerged stronger of the two at the resumption.
She broke to take the set when the Russian sprayed a backhand well wide, reeling off six straight games for 5-0 before Pavlyuchenkova was able to stem the flow.
A late-match lift got the Russian on the board and she managed to break when the world No.11 served for it.
Four times the Slovak held match points on Pavlyuchenkova’s serve. Three of those four were saved with an ace before a double fault conceded the contest on match point No.5.
Cibulkova advanced to her first semi-final since Doha in February.
“The break made me play better,” Cibulkova admitted. “She made it extremely difficult for me at the end. She started to play much better and I had a few match points and had to keep fighting. Even this game she was 40-15 up on serve and I said ‘OK, this one’s going to be yours’.
“This is great. I’m in the semi-finals, I’ve had two great matches here against really great opponents.”
Cibulkova will meet surprise semi-finalist Elise Mertens, of Belgium, for a place in her first final of the season.
In a first since Rome 2014 (Li Na and Zhang Shuai), two Chinese players reached the quarter-finals of a WTA Premier event with Peng Shuai due to face top seed Agnieszka Radwanska on Thursday night and Zhang Shuai to face Mertens.
Unfortunately for Zhang a right arm industry forced her withdrawal ahead of her first-time meeting with Mertens.
It is the second time this season the Belgian has advanced to the semi-finals of an event as a qualifier, having claimed her maiden tour title in Hobart.
“Of course, it’s not the way you want to win. But, I mean, I played a lot of matches already so one day off can't hurt,” Mertens said.
“I'm happy I'm through to the semi-finals. I hope she will recover well for US Open.”
Daria Gavrilova was the first to reach the semi-finals on Thursday with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Mertens’ countrywoman and fellow qualifier, Kirsten Flipkens.
The Australian, who lost to compatriot Sam Stosur in the Strasbourg final on clay, was aggressive throughout.
She took on the net-charging Belgian at her own game, bringing up three set points in the opening set with a confident backhand volley to draw the error and closed it out at the first offing. Gavrilova went on to secure the match on her second opportunity with an off-forehand winner.
New Haven has been a happy hunting ground for the 76th-ranked Flipkens. She was appearing in the last eight for the third time in the past four years (2014, 2016). But against the world No.26 she was not able to convert when it mattered, finishing 0/11 on break-point opportunities.
“Clearly saved a few breakpoints,” Gavrilova grinned, when asked what worked well for her on Thursday. “I was just brave on the big points. I stuck to my plan. I think I was actually coming into the net a lot more than I actually expected myself. Yeah, I was pretty aggressive.”