It was a thrilling match that occurred in the first match of the day at the Australian Open in Rod Laver Arena between Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova came into the match as the underdog as Cibulkova owns a 3-0 lead in their head-to-head record and is the higher-ranked player, but the Russian defied all odds to create the upset to progress to the second week here in Melbourne for the seventh time in a row, an incredible feat. Although Makarova could have closed the match out within less than one and a half hours, she eventually used 2 hours and 53 minutes to clinch the victory and seal the upset.
Makarova cruises to the first set
Cibulkova started the match on a high note after she served out the opening game of the match to love that was concluded with a glorious drop shot winner on game point. Makarova faced some trouble in her service game when Cibulkova came up with her typical strong groundstrokes, but the Russian managed to seal the service hold with a wonderful forehand down-the-line winner. Some smart play from Makarova allowed her to earn her first break points of the match, after forcing Cibulkova to hit more shots from her backhand, which is the vulnerable shot of hers. That proved effective when Cibulkova hit three consecutive backhand unforced errors and eventually lost the break on two forehand unforced errors to give Makarova the early lead. Makarova then consolidated the break of serve with a service hold, with a perfect backhand down-the-line winner that was deemed in by Hawkeye.
Cibulkova looked to have stopped the rout when she held two game points in the following game, but Makarova unexpectedly came back to win four points in a row to secure yet another break to earn a double break lead, after her game plan proved effective and backhands working very well. Maintaining her composure, Cibulkova played her normal game with all the solid groundstrokes which then managed to help her get one of the breaks back to lessen the deficit. Cibulkova got herself into trouble once again when she went down 0-40 in the next game after hitting two double faults, but managed to come back to deuce to have a chance to hold her serve. However, Makarova finally extended her own lead by eventually breaking serve with some amazing backhands that were on fire, and earning the opportunity to serve out the first set. Those angles from Makarova’s backhand shots were really amazing, proving that it is her greatest weapon. Errors after errors once again cost Cibulkova greatly as she allowed Makarova to hold to love and clinch the first set 6-2 after 36 minutes.
The 16 unforced errors from Cibulkova, in contrast to Makarova’s 7 unforced errors, certainly did not help her throughout the set, which was the crucial factor that decided the winner.
Cibulkova mounts incredible comeback
Makarova continued her amazing run and started the second set the best way possible after she strolled through the opening game to get the first break of the set as she managed to expose Cibulkova’s uncharacteristic wobbly groundstrokes. The Russian then faced some trouble in her service game, but still eventually consolidated the break of serve with a service hold to win her fourth game in a row. Losing her focus and confidence, Cibulkova gave Makarova yet another service break to trail 0-3 and looked even further away from a deciding set as she was all over the place. With nothing working for her in the whole match, Cibulkova was further encouraged and motivated when she earned a break point after some unforced errors by the Russian. However, Makarova maintained her composure and held her service after serving her first ace of the match to save the break point and extended her lead to 4-0.
Three consecutive return winners off Cibulkova’s serves by Makarova then brought her into contention for yet another service break, but the Slovakian finally came up with some solid groundstrokes to earn her first service hold since the first game of the match. Cibulkova started to put up some fight as Makarova let her emotions get the better of her, losing one of the breaks to give Cibulkova a glimpse of hope. Cibulkova kept the momentum running in her as she held her serve once more to lessen the deficit to just one single game, with the deciding set in her sights. Cibulkova continued her incredible run as she returned level to win her fourth game in a row after Makarova started to get tired and nervous as she would have thought she could have won the match when she was up 4-0 40-30. The Slovakian took the lead for the first time in the second set when she held her serve comfortably and extended her run to five straight games. Cibulkova looked poised for a deciding set when she brought up three set points, having the confidence and momentum in her.
The Russian eventually maintained her composure and showed nerves of steel when she came up with incredible serves with good placement to hold serve and kept herself in the set, stopping the rout in the process. The set was then eventually taken into a tiebreak to decide its winner as both players earned comfortable service holds. Makarova had a promising start to the second set when she had a mini break but was pegged back as Cibulkova won four straight points to lead 4-2 instead. Cibulkova never let the hard-fought lead slip away from then, eventually capping off the incredible comeback with an unforced error from Makarova.
Makarova takes it at the last moment
Makarova had an encouraging start to the final set as she held her serve to love, not letting the loss of the second set affect her emotions. She followed it up with a break of service to take the early advantage in the final set and looked poised for the victory after she was just a whisker away from it in the second set. However, her celebrations were short-lived as Cibulkova played some amazing tennis to get the break back and level the match on serve once again. Makarova soon took a medical time-out due to a right elbow injury which was very concerning as her backhands started to misfire in the middle of the final set.
She almost gave Cibulkova the lead when she conceded three break point opportunities, but the Slovakian’s backhand unforced errors were dragging her back and caused her to lose all three chances only to see Makarova hold serve soon later. The time-out seemed to help her a lot as she managed to make the next breakthrough at 4-3 by breaking Cibulkova’s serve after the Slovakian made four unforced errors to gift the advantage to Makarova. With the confidence needed especially after the loss of five straight games in the second set, Makarova successfully served out the match after Cibulkova hit an easy forehand into the net on match point after 2 hours and 53 minutes.
Next up for Makarova
The Russian would next face defending semifinalist Johanna Konta in a rematch of last year’s fourth-round match in which Konta triumphed in three grueling sets. If Makarova were to win the match, she would be able to rise into the world’s top 30 once again and make a push up in the rankings.