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Saturday, December 3, 2005

Cibulkova Wins Three Hour Duel to Reach Girls 18s Final; All-Croatian Matchup For Boys 18s Championship

Cibulkova Wins Three Hour Duel to Reach Girls 18s Final; All-Croatian Matchup For Boys 18s Championship ~~~
©Colette Lewis 2005
Bradenton FL--

After a seesaw three set battle of deuce games in the semifinal match between Dominika Cibulkova and Evgeniya Rodina, the last thing any of the hundreds of spectators expected to witness was either player winning five straight points.

But third seeded Cibulkova did just that, roaring back from a 2-5 deficit in the tiebreak to edge Rodina, the tournament's eleventh seed, by a score of 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5)at the IMG Bollettieri Academy Saturday afternoon.

After the tiebreak's first change of ends, with Rodina leading 4-2, Cibulkova thought she was doomed when Rodina's forehand clipped the tape and dropped over, leaving the speedy Slovakian watching helplessly. The Russian held up her racquet in apology, and Cibulkova was momentarily deflated.

"But then I said to myself, no, she can't win it on that, and I was going to fight for every single shot."

Cibulkova convinced herself she could win after hitting an exquisite backhand winner down the line to draw to 5-4, and when Rodina made two uncharacteristic errors on Cibulkova's two service points, it was Cibulkova who had the first match point--at the one hour and forty minute mark of the the set.

Urging herself on, saying "pome", Slovakian for "come on", Cibulkova took her time getting set, a pattern throughout the match that contributed to its two hour fifty minute length. Rodina, who had struggled early in the set with cramping, but showing no signs of distress in the later stages, didn't give herself time to get nervous, serving quickly. But her backhand crosscourt floated just wide, and a still fresh-looking Cibulkova raised both hands in triumph.

"It's the toughest match I played all year," said the diminutive blonde from Bratislava, who also had a grueling three setter in the quarterfinal on Friday.

"It was good tennis. These past few matches give you confidence, knowing you can play your best practice tennis on the court."

Cibulkova will test her confidence again in the final, where she will face 10th seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania who defeated unseeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany 7-6(4), 6-2.

The boys final will be a repeat of a Croatia National Championship match when Nikola Mektic, the 13th seed, faces top seed Marin Cilic. But those expecting a mismatch should consider that it was the much smaller Mektic who won that April contest.

Mektic defeated unseeded Kevin Botti Saturday 6-4, 6-3, deflating the sixteen-year-old member of France's Junior Davis Cup Championship team with his use of a shot rarely witnessed in junior tennis--the lob.

At 4-all in the first set, Mektic hit two of them for winners, one at 30-40, to get the only break he would need.

"I like that shot very much," said the soon-to-be seventeen-year-old Zagreb resident, who is playing in his first Eddie Herr. "It's a rare shot, and it seems I always win the next point after too. It's frustrating for opponents."

The six-foot five-inch Cilic defeated fourth seed Dusan Ljoda of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-1 and credits the calmer winds for his domination.

"I played much better because the wind wasn't so hard, and I played relaxed, much better than yesterday," said the ITF's second ranked junior, who can finish the year at the top of the rankings if he takes the Orange Bowl championship next week in Key Biscayne.

Despite his win over Cilic earlier in the year, Mektic knows beating Cilic is not easy. Asked if the last match provided him with a boost of confidence Mektic laughed and said, "not very much."

Cilic also knows better than to underestimate his countryman.

"Our matches are always very tight; it's going to be interesting," said the seventeen-year-old French Junior Open Champion. "He's a very smart player so it's always tough to play him."

Play begins at 9:00 a.m. Sunday at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton.

For complete draws, including doubles, visit www.eddieherr.com