More often than one might expect, a single shot or point can encapsulate a match. With a second serve from Cibulkova upcoming on a set point in the first-set tiebreak, Petrova should have feasted on the 73-mph delivery from the Slovak. Instead, a tight swing sent the ball well over the baseline, squandering her only opportunity to clinch the set and her last genuine opportunity to take control of the match.
Exchanging breaks before the first changeover, the Russian and the Slovak battled to a virtual draw through the first 63 minutes of the first set. Especially effective was Petrova’s wide serve into the deuce court, which won her plenty of free points as it eluded her opponent’s short wingspan. The fourth seed concluded several service games with aces that might have deflated a less resilient rival. But Cibulkova conceded almost no openings on her own serve, mixing deep groundstrokes with determined defense to protect her more vulnerable delivery. What seemed to augur the turning point of the match came at 5-5, when the second seed let a 30-0 lead slip away with four straight points lost. Converting the rare break point by transitioning smoothly from defense to offense, Petrova positioned herself to serve out the set. When an ace started the next game, Cibulkova looked destined to find herself in a one-set hole.
At that point, though, everything unraveled for the Russian. Two points later, a missed swing volley after a thoroughly constructed point incited her to viciously swat a ball off the backboard, too close for comfort to a lineswoman. Temporarily subdued by the ensuing code violation warning, Petrova double-faulted and dropped serve immediately. She appeared on the verge of regaining control when she won the first four points of the tiebreak, including a blistering return winners and two service winners. Swiftly trailing 4-0, Cibulkova then unleashed two scintillating winners of her own and edged slowly back into the tiebreak. Then came the moment with which this article opened, which revealed the nerves that have betrayed her throughout her career. Always holding the upper hand, Cibulkova cracked consecutive backhand winners to finish off the 63-minute first set.
In the wake of that drama, the second set felt like an anticlimactic formality. It began inauspiciously with a medical timeout by Petrova, who looked predictably disheartened and struck two double faults en route to dropping serve. Across the net, Cibulkova began to read the Russian’s service patterns more alertly and even cracked two first serves for outright return winners. Perhaps fortunate to escape a bagel, Petrova lacked the fire that she would have needed to mount a comeback against an increasingly convinced Slovak. Punctuating each winner (and, unfortunately some Petrova unforced errors) with her throaty yelp of celebration, Cibulkova wasted little time in closing out the match uneventfully.
On Sunday, the second seed will meet either world #10 and top seed Marion Bartoli or the 160th-ranked qualifier Yung-jan Chan, who upset Jankovic in the quarterfinals. No matter who holds the title on Sunday, Carlsband will have a new champion. The only player who has not lost a set this week, Cibulkova must fancy her chances of becoming that champion.