Tokyo: Fifth seed Dominika Cibulkova pummelled Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-3 yesterday to storm into the second round of the Pan Pacific Open.
The Slovakian world number nine produced glimpses of the red-hot form that won her four of her eight career titles last year with some brutal hitting in the Tokyo sunshine.
Cibulkova, who climbed as high as fourth in the women’s rankings in 2016, underlined her early dominance by ripping a back
hand down the line to take the first set.
It was one-way traffic in the second set too as the 28-year-old from Bratislava broke in the fourth game, before putting Suarez Navarro out of her misery with a thumping forehand on match point after one hour and 24 minutes.
Cibulkova has momentum after posting her best result of the season in August when reaching the final of the Connecticut Open.
She carried that to Tokyo, racing 5-1 ahead. Suarez Navarro broke in a seventh game that contained four deuces, and briefly threatened to fight her way back.
Last year’s WTA Finals champion, Cibulkova broke in the third game of the second set, and again to love in the final game.
It has rarely gone so well for Cibulkova this year. The weight of expectation following last year’s four titles proved too much.
“Since the trip to the US, even though I lost in the third round in Cincinnati to Jo Konta, I started to feel I was coming back,” she said.
“Then in New Haven, even though I lost the final, I was really close to winning. Right now, I feel the best on court that I have all year.
“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, that I have to repeat
the same great year. Now I’ve lost this pressure. I want to enjoy the fact I’ve found my form and I feel fresh for this tournament and the others in Asia. I want to take this chance.”
Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova lies in wait today.
Elsewhere, Caroline Garcia restored a measure of French pride after eighth seed Kristina Mladenovic was humiliated 6-0, 6-0 by China’s Wang Qiang in the first round on Monday. Garcia, seeded ninth, had no such trouble and comfortably overpowered Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-4, 6-3.
Last year’s surprise Rio Olympic gold medallist Monica Puig also advanced but had to work to beat Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei 2-6, 6-1, 6-1.
The Puerto Rican will face top seed Garbine Muguruza in the last 16.
In other matches, Russia twice got the better of their American rivals, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova battling past Catherine Bellis 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 and Daria Kasatkina also taking three sets to see off Madison Brengle 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Muguruza, Wimbledon champion and newly crowned women’s world number one, heads a strong field in Tokyo featuring several top 10 players including Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki and Johanna Konta.