Cibulkova’s winning debut faces final test in Kerber

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SINGAPORE — Top-ranked Angelique Kerber and seventh-seeded Dominika Cibulkova will compete for the WTA Finals title on Sunday.

The top-seeded Kerber picked apart defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska’s game in a textbook 6-2, 6-1 semifinal drubbing on Saturday.

This is Kerber’s fourth trip to the WTA Finals and the first time she’s advanced beyond the round-robin stage of the competition.

“It’s just amazing to be here,” Kerber said. “It’s been an incredible 12 months. I’ve been really working to being focused, to being calm and to being just positive on court and this is the biggest improvement I’ve made.”

Slovakia’s Cibulkova rolled to the ground in celebration after taking her debut at the WTA Finals all the way to the championship match with a 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 semifinal victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova.

“I’m just so excited,” said Cibulkova, after winning in 2 hours, 27 minutes. “This is my first time here, playing finals now, and playing such a great match against Sveta.

“For me, it’s one of my dreams come true.”

Kerber leads Cibulkova 5-4 in career meetings, including Kerber’s tough 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3 win in their round-robin meeting.

“It’s a little bit weird to play against one opponent twice in one tournament,” Kerber said. “This never happened before for me. She has nothing to lose, so I think it will be a good match and final from both of us.”

But Kerber warned that “I am playing a lot more aggressive now than in that first match.”

Kerber featured in three Grand Slam finals this year, winning her first two Grand Slam titles at the Australian and US Open.

The semifinal was lopsided as Kerber, always on the offensive, kept Radwanska from finding any inroads into her game. While Kerber did surrender her serve on both break points she faced, it had little impact as she took advantage of seven of 13 break points offered by Radwanska.

“I just couldn’t make the last shot,” Radwanska said. “All the games were going one way. Not my way, unfortunately.”

At the end of her match, Kuznetsova did not wait at the net for the traditional handshake as Cibulkova celebrated victory. Cibulkova then approached the already seated Kuznetsova, but the handshake offered by the Russian appeared lackluster.

Cibulkova, who reached the 2014 Australian Open final, played down the exchange.

“I saw her on her bench so I went there to shake hands,” Cibulkova said. “Sometimes you can get upset after the match and that’s normal. We are fine, but we are not like best friends on the tour. It wasn’t like we’re going to hug each other, but it was OK.”

Cibulkova holds a 6-3 winning record over Kuznetsova, and has now won their last six matches. She is the second consecutive player to reach the year-end final having come out of the round-robin stage with a 1-2 result.

Radwanska won the title from a 1-2 finish in the round-robin last year.

Cibulkova was named the 2016 WTA Comeback Player of the Year, having improved from a No. 38 year-end ranking in 2015 to No. 8 this week. In 2015, she missed four months of the season after undergoing Achilles surgery.

Cibulkova was almost non-existent in the first set and Kuznetsova didn’t offer a break-point opportunity.

The second set featured six service breaks, but it was Cibulkova who took the tiebreaker by repeated smart-shot placement against her opponent.

Kuznetsova looked on the way to the finals with a 4-2 lead in the dramatic third set, but Cibulkova refused to fold.

From 4-4, Cibulkova saved two break points on her serve in the ninth game, and then captured the first match point at 30-40 when Kuznetsova’s forehand clipped the net and sailed wide.

“Whatever it is, I’m not going to put any excuses,” Kuznetsova said. “I just did all I could, and I went short a little bit in the end.”

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.