MELBOURNE: Last year’s Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova declared herself a Grand Slam contender again on Monday after crashing two-time champion Victoria Azarenka’s comeback party.
The Slovak pocket rocket, seeded 11th this year, defeated the Belarusian 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 to set up a quarter-final clash with top seeded American Serena Williams.
Cibulkova has struggled at Grand Slams since losing to China’s Li Na in last year’s decider at Melbourne Park and a defeat against Azarenka would have sent her tumbling out of the top 20 for the first time since 2010.
But returning to Rod Laver Arena, scene of her greatest Grand Slam achievement, proved an inspiration against Azarenka, who went into the match with a 7-2 winning record against Cibulkova.
“I just walked on the court and all the great memories came to my mind and I was just thinking ‘I’m a great player, I can do it, I just have to believe in myself’,” the Slovak said
“That’s what I’m doing right now. Today’s performance was really, really great tennis.”
The 25-year old, at 1.61 metres (5’3″) one of the shortest players on tour, said she made up for her lack of height with terrier-like tenacity to chase down every ball.
“I have to compensate my height with something, so I just put a lot of energy in my tennis,” she said.
“I go for my winners and I’m just not like a typical small player, I’m not just defensive. I’m going for it and that’s what my tennis is about.”
Former world number one Azarenka, unseeded at Melbourne Park after returning from a horror 2014 when she struggled with injury and depression, looked shaky at times, conceding the first set with a double fault.
“I was killing her on the forehand and doing all I could,” a jubilant Cibulkova said.
“The first set, the way I played, no mistakes. I was going for my shots and I was just doing the right things. I was really putting her under so much pressure.”
Azarenka switched tactics and rushed the net in the second set, also improving her serve, and reaped immediate rewards to take it 6-3 and force a decider.
The third set hung in the balance until the seventh game, when Cibulkova scored a decisive break and she went on to take the match and keep her dream of a first Grand Slam title alive.
“I just knew I have to go for it more than hundred percent,” she said.
“I knew I have to be much more aggressive and just stay there and to go for my shots. So, yeah, today was a really, really tough one, but I managed to get through.”
Cibulkova has lost to Williams in all four of their previous meetings, three times in straight sets. (AFP)