By Ros Satar, in Eastbourne
- Dominika Cibulkova, Karolina Pliskova and Johanna Konta win their quarter-finals
- Cibulkova roars past Monica Puig, while Konta puts up a brave battle against Pliskova in the semi-finals
- Cibulkova  v Pliskova  – H2H: Cibulkova leads 1-0
EASTBOURNE, UK – One clear day, quarter-finals and semi-finals out of the way and the run up to Wimbledon sees Dominika Cibulkova tackling Karolina Pliskova for Aegon International title.
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Dominika Cibulkova  def. Agnieszka Radwanska  4-6 7-6(2) 6-3
Another round of on again off again, and after roaring through the first racing through the first set for a 4-1 lead, Radwanska at least could head indoors a set and a break up over the Slovakian.
With the sun shining, the chance was there for Radwanska to close the match out, but Cibulkova started with a break straight back. Staving off another break point from Radwanska was key as they eventually headed for a tie-break, with Cibulkova pushing forward to level the set.
While the sun might have been a rarity, the ever-present sea breeze (which at times can be more akin to a passing hurricane) it was not helping Radwanska adjust to the conditions.
After a competitive start to the decider, Cibulkova made her move, breaking Radwanska twice in a row to deny the top seed a shot at the Eastbourne title for the second year in a row.
Talking to reporters she said: “It’s always a good match, but I don’t think I was playing good enough today. I think she was playing really aggressive, good tennis. I think I step backwards a little bit too much.
“I’m healthy. I’m good. Ready for Wimbledon. Of course it’s always disappointing when you lose, and especially that type of long match. Well, what can you do?
“It’s not much time. So, you know, depends of course the schedule. Maybe you have one, two, maximum three days of practice there, so of course it’s not much, but, you know, I’m in the match rhythm. I picked up good matches here.”
Radwanska has struggled in shocking weather (even for a British summer!) in both Birmingham and here, not forgetting the torrential and claggy days in Paris, ultimately sending Radwanska packing in the fourth round.
She wryly commented: “I think I should have a gift at every tournament. A huge umbrella.”
Karolina Pliskova  def. Elena Vesnina 6-1 6-3
Meanwhile Pliskova ripped the rest of her continued first set in much the way she had start. Before the rains came, she ploughed to a 4-0 lead in 15 minutes and on the restart, Vesnina managed a single game.
The Russian, a former winner here, had to fend off four break points to keep in contention in the second set.
Pliskova, coming off a title in Nottingham before an early exit in Birmingham, took control and despite being broken straight back after going ahead, she broke Vesnina for the match.
Johanna Konta  def. Ekaterina Makarova 7-6(5) 6-4
Home hope Konta was in commanding form, setting up to defend last year’s quarter-final run. Makarova lost to her a year ago, and then was a victim of her spirited dash through the Australian Open.
The Russian has also been playing some solid tennis, and rightly should be considered a dangerous floater in the Wimbledon draw. She struck first with an immediate break, before the Brit edged back.
The pair stayed toe-to-toe before exchanging breaks to bring up a tie-break, with Makarova pushing ahead to build up a 4-2 lead.
Showing impressive resilience, Konta pegged her back, eventually taking it on her first set point.
The second set started with another break of the Konta serve but this time she struck straight back, before striking at the end to go 3-0 up in their head to head, probably leaving the Russian wondering what she has to do to get past the Brit.
Cibulkova def. Monica Puig 6-2 6-1
Puig by rights should have been the freshest of the lot, having reached the quarter-finals on Thursday, but the Slovakian stole a march on the qualifier who by now must be feeling the match-play,
Breaking late in the set and again to take the first set, the momentum stayed firmly with Cibulkova who raced out to a 3-0 lead at the first change of ends, and although Puig managed to hold on to her next service game, it was not enough.
Cibulkova has now made four finals on four different surfaces, just this year alone.
She said: “I didn’t even realise it was four different surfaces. When we started to practice after Roland Garros, I said to my coach, ’it’s shame that the clay is over.’ And I played just two tournaments on clay and I did really well. I was playing finals and third round [at Roland Garros] I lost tough match against Navarro.
“He said, ‘Domi, you’ll be fine. You’re playing good. You will just change small things in your game. You will see you will be fine on the grass.’ I’m happy he was right and I was able to do it on the first tournament.
“I couldn’t wish for a better week. I’m happy that I’m playing Tuesday at Wimbledon, because you always want to get few practices there and just, you know, to hang around. I don’t have experience with it to come to the Grand Slams so late, but hopefully this is gonna be different situation.”
Pliskova def. Konta 6-7(5) 6-3 6-3
It was then the turn of the Brit to come back out, but no-one could have scripted the drama about to unfold.
No quarter was being given at all by the players in the first set, with not even a break point between them. Going into the tie-break the Czech soon dominated, leaping out to a 4-1 lead, before Konta started inching back.
With a staunch crowd behind her, she swung the tide to edge the first set. But drama was to follow as a slip and fall seemed to shake Konta to the point of tears to her coach, before some blood-curdling screams rang out from the crowd from the wheelchair bays.
Whatever the issue was there, it at least had the effect of stopping Konta’s tears in their tracks, and a little longer to calm herself down, but in reality that set was gone, as Pliskova levelled.
The Czech was quick to build up a 3-0 lead, with Konta losing a hard-fought third game, saving four break points before succumbing to the fifth.
To her credit though she did not back down, getting the first of the breaks back but Pliskova was able to keep her advantage, finishing her path to her second final of the grass court season with a final break.
The Czech said: “[Konta’s] tough. Even if you lose the first set — in Indian Wells I won the first set. She’s still playing the same tennis. She doesn’t give you much mistakes. She’s serving pretty well, so it’s tough. And on grass even more because of the serve. It’s tricky. She can really have big percentage of the first serve like she had today.”
There is something perhaps a little more genteel about a British crowd in the coastal town of Eastbourne compared to perhaps some of the more vibrant opposition that Pliskova may have faced in her career.
“We are in England and I’m playing British girl. So I was just ready for everything. But I don’t think it was that bad. And also, the other thing is I’m used to from Fed Cups where it’s really like 50 times worse than here,” she said with a smile.
Looking ahead to her match against Cibulkova, she told us:
“She had also some good wins this week, and I think she’s also improving with every match. It’s going to be tough, a little bit different game than today. She’s also playing faster from the baseline but not serving that good.
“I think she’s playing fast and aggressive game from the baseline, and of course she’s just gonna make me move. That’s what all the girls have to do. But I will be ready for it. I think my movement is improving slowly but improving. Thanks God I have a long hand so I can have a lot of balls (smiling).”
The final of the Aegon International is at 1:30pm on Sunday.
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