Dominika Cibulkova was almost lost for words after she became the first Slovakian woman to reach a grand slam final by beating fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 6-2 at the Australian Open on Thursday.
The 20th seed dominated the semi-final from the start and when Radwanska’s final shot hit the net, she threw her racket in the air and fell on her back in delight.
The usually chatty 24-year-old, who will play China’s Li Na in the final on Saturday at Melbourne Park, could barely describe her joy after one of the performances of her life.
“I still can’t believe I am in the final,” she said in a courtside interview. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Radwanska went into the match as favourite having taken out the twice defending champion, Victoria Azarenka, in the previous round.
But the Pole was completely overpowered and outplayed by Cibulkova, who ran down everything and slammed winners on both sides.
Cibulkova won the first three games in a flash and though Radwanska got on the board in the fourth game, she stormed through the rest of the set.
Radwanska tried everything she could to mix the pace at the start of the second set but it had no impact as Cibulkova raced to a 4-0 lead.
Radwanska got one of the breaks back to cut the lead to 4-2 but Cibulkova held for 5-2 and then broke again to clinch her place in the final.
“Once I held my serve for 5-2, I knew I was going to win,” Cibulkova said.
“Aga’s an unbelievable player and her defensive game is unbelievable and I was prepared for long rallies.
“But I knew I had to go for my shots, even if I made mistakes, I just had to go for it.”
Cibulkova has never beaten Li in four matches but said she would be giving it everything to win the title.
“I will need some time (to get over the semi-final) but I think I will be prepared,” she said.
“I just want to go out there and enjoy it, the same way I have enjoyed all my matches.”
In the other semi-final China’s Li Na overcame Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard to reach her second successive Australian Open final with a 6-2 6-4 victory.
Li has now reached three finals at Melbourne Park in the last four years, having lost to Victoria Azarenka last year and Kim Clijsters in 2011. She also lost to Clijsters in the fourth round in 2012.
“Last time was a little bit tough so I will try this time to make one more step,” Li said in a courtside interview.
“I think after working with the coach, it’s not only about my technique, I’m playing much stronger on court… and more stable from the first point to the second point,” she added of her success at the season-opening grand slam.
Bouchard was just the second Canadian player of either gender to make it to a grand slam semi-final in the Open Era, after Carling Bassett, who was a semi-finalist at the 1984 U.S. Open
The 19-year-old, however, had trouble from the onset, letting the ball bounce in front of her on the opening serve due to the sun, before her first actual serve was into the wrong service box.
Li wasted little time in bashing three backhand winners in the first game to break the young Canadian to love, held serve, then broke again to love to give her a handy 3-0 lead.
Such was the world number four’s dominance, Li did not commit an unforced error until the fourth game and restricted Bouchard to three points in total in the first five.
She continued to force Bouchard back behind the baseline, when rallies extended beyond three shots, but then temporarily lost concentration to allow the Canadian to win two games, before she sealed the first set in 28 minutes with a forehand volley.
Bouchard began the second set with an ace – her first of the match – and while Li held two break points the Canadian appeared to be getting into a rhythm and she battled to hold serve in a game that lasted 11 minutes.
Li’s first service game of the second set lasted a further 10 minutes as Bouchard attacked Li’s first serve, which had deserted her, with five deuce points before the Chinese belted a forehand out to give the 30th seed a 2-0 lead.
The momentum swung again with Li rattling off three successive games, and six of the final eight, as she continued to be aggressive to set up a final against Dominika Cibulkova.