STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Dominika Cibulkova did a whole lot more than just win a game against Agnieszka Radwanska this time.
She won the tournament.
Cibulkova avenged one of the worst losses ever in a WTA Tour final, rallying to beat Radwanska 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the Bank of the West Classic final Sunday.
Seven months after failing to even win a game against Radwanska in the Sydney final, Cibulkova came out aggressive and put the top-seeded Radwanska on the run. Cibulkova, seeded third, overcame two service breaks in the final set — both on double-faults — before winning the final four games.
“The difference between Sydney and today was that I made the first game. And after the first game I looked at my coach and was like, ‘Here we go. I’m out here, and it’s going to be good today,’” she said.
The Slovak sealed the 2-hour, 30-minute match on the fifth championship point with a backhand, crosscourt winner. She fell to the hard court and covered her face in celebration as her father, Milan, ran out of the stands to give her a hug.
“I was just so happy and he scared me,” she said, chuckling. “He gets emotional. I think that I have this after my parents — especially after my father — that I get into the matches sometimes so much and I just put my heart into it. And I think he did the same today.”
The victory gave Cibulkova her third career singles title and first win against Radwanska in four tries. She is 3-5 in WTA finals and is projected to rise from 25th to 21st in the rankings.
Radwanska, ranked No. 4 in the world, fell to 12-5 in WTA finals. Her collapse at Stanford was reminiscent of her recent run at Wimbledon, where she blew a 3-0 lead in the final set of a semifinal loss to Sabine Lisicki.
Radwanska said she wasn’t thinking about Wimbledon when she took the lead against Cibulkova. Afterward, though, she felt the same.
“I didn’t use my chances when I was 4-2 up, and I paid the price,” she said.
The Polish star started the year by winning back-to-back tournaments at Auckland and Sydney, where she crushed Cibulkova 6-0, 6-0. It was the first whitewash in a final since November 2006 and only one in Cibulkova’s career.
The rematch had a far different feel from the start.
Cibulkova won the opening game on her serve, pumping her fist after flicking a forehand down the line. That confidence, which she admitted wore down in the weeks following Radwanska’s rout, never relented despite several setbacks.
Radwanska showed almost no emotion throughout another sun-splashed day on the Stanford campus. But Cibulkova’s frustration never simmered, either — even drawing laughs from the crowd when she playfully slapped a ball away once with her hand after a point — and she positively pumped her fist and shouted at every chance.
After losing the first seven break points she earned, Cibulkova began going for more winners and drops shots — typically Radwanska’s style — to finally come through. She crushed a backhand return at Radwanska that went unreturned to go ahead 4-3 and take the second set.
Cibulkova double-faulted long to go down 3-1 in the final set but immediately broke back with a flurry of all-or-nothing shots that Radwanska couldn’t handle. Then Cibulkova double-faulted again — this time long — to hand Radwanska a 4-2 lead, only to force Radwanska to net a forehand for a fourth consecutive game with a service break.
With a chance to serve out the match at 5-4, Cibulkova nearly crumbled. She sailed forehands long on her first three championship points, then held off a service break before coming up short chasing a crosscourt volley by Radwanska on the fourth championship point.
“I started to feel a little bit tired,” Cibulkova said. “In the long rallies, I started to feel my breath and my legs. The last match point I was so dead, I was so tired, but I knew I could not give it up now. I knew I just had to make one, two more balls and the match is mine.”
Finally, after a long baseline rally on the fifth championship point, Cibulkova ripped the backhand winner that sent all of her emotions — and her father — pouring onto the court.
Cibulkova also won in Carlsbad last year and in Moscow in 2011 for her only other WTA titles, but she will surely savor this one given all she has overcome.
“The first one was really tough on me emotionally because I had so many finals on me and everybody was like, ‘Why don’t you have the titles?’” she said. “Moscow was a different story. But today, I’m really happy, because she’s No. 4 in the world and a great player and this is my first win against her. And to come up with such a game in the final against such a great player, I feel really good.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP