Dominika Cibulkova continued her dream debut at the WTA Finals with a thrilling 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova to battle through to the final after rallying past the Russian in an absorbing encounter on Saturday.
The 27-year-old will take on the winner of the second semi-final between world number one Angelique Kerber and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in Sunday’s final, a showdown that looked unlikely after Kuznetsova raced through the first set.
“This is my first time here and it’s one of my dreams come true, just incredible,” world number eight Cibulkova said.
“In the first set she blew me away, so I was able to change things up and won because I was more aggressive on the court.”
The Slovakian, who had won their last five encounters, enjoyed a bright opening and threatened on Kuznetsova’s first service game but some booming forehands bailed out the Russian, who then edged ahead when she broke in the third game.
Kuznetsova was now firing on all cylinders, pushing Cibulkova all around the court and forcing her opponent into errors and a huge return winner down the line gave the world number nine a second straight break.
Cibulkova was unable to make any inroads at all on Kuznetsova’s serve with the rampant Russian calling all the shots and breaking for a third straight time when another forehand error handed her the set in 32 minutes.
Kuznetsova continued to press and probe Cibulkova at the start of the second set but the Slovakian stepped up her intensity levels to manufacture her first break of the match in the fifth game for a 3-2 lead.
The Russian fought back immediately to put the set back on serve and as the tension mounted, neither player was capable of holding and four consecutive breaks from the ninth game sent it into a tiebreaker.
Cibulkova maintained her aggression in the tiebreak, quickly racing 6-2 ahead as Kuznetsova struggled to keep pace with her and the Slovakian sent the contest into a decider when she sent a backhand winner past her static opponent.
In a contest between two of the sport’s most tenacious battlers, the third set was punctuated with several swings in momentum before Cibulkova followed up a gutsy hold from 15-40 in the ninth game to seal victory with another break.
Cibulkova qualified for the year-ending championships for the first time after tournament wins in Kotowice, Eastbourne and Linz, and she squeaked into the semi-finals with a 1-2 round robin record after thrashing Simona Halep on Thursday.