2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova is heading in the right direction after a career-best year in 2016. Despite losing early at the BNP Paribas Open, Cibulkova rose to a career-high ranking of four in the world, due to Simona Halep failing to defend her points from last year. Nevertheless, the diminutive Slovak deserves her spot in the top four rankings in the world. This time last year, Cibulkova was ranked just outside of the top 40 in the WTA Rankings due to injury in 2015 which derailed her season that year. Cibulkova comes into this year's Miami Open as one of the favorites to win the title with Serena Williams once again absent from another tournament.
Cibulkova's third round opponent at the Miami Open is occasional doubles partner Kirsten Flipkens. Flipkens has struggled with her tennis for the past three years, which briefly saw her drop outside of the top 100. Her ranking is now at 85 in the world but she is former top 15 player, reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2013. Nevertheless, the Belgian is still a dangerous player, and Cibulkova must bring her A-game to defeat Flipkens.
Cibulkova's route to the third round
The fourth seed gained a bye in the first round of the Miami Open as one of the top 32 seeds. The former Australian Open finalist opened up her campaign against Paraguayan qualifier Veronica Cepede Royg, and finally, the Slovak was able to win a match in straight sets, which is vital for Cibulkova if she is to go far in tournaments. Nevertheless, it was a straightforward, 6-3, 6-2 victory for Cibulkova to dispatch the Paraguayan.
Flipkens' route to the third round
The world number 85 didn't get the privilege of receiving a bye in the first round as being an unseeded player in the draw. However, that didn't matter as the Belgian came back from a set down to defeat the 21-year-old Jennifer Brady, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. That would have been a confidence boosting victory for Flipkens. The 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist backed up her win over Brady by dispatching Croatia's 29th seed Ana Konjuh in another three-set tussle, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-2 to set up this intriguing third round match with Cibulkova.
Cibulkova and Flipkens have met on six occasions, and the 27-year-old leads 4-2 in their head-to-head encounters. The duo has met on four different surfaces. Cibulkova leads 3-0 on hard courts, 1-0 on clay courts, and Flipkens leads 1-0 on grass and 1-0 on the carpet.
The reigning WTA Finals champion dispatched Flipkens in their first two encounters in straight sets both in 2009 in a Fed Cup tie between Slovakia and Belgium, 7-6 (4), 6-1, and she thrashed the Belgian, 6-1, 6-0 in the second round of the French Open. However, Flipkens would wipe out their deficit in their rivalry by defeating Cibulkova in the quarterfinals on the grass courts in 's-Hertogenbosch in 2010 and two years later in Quebec on the carpet in three sets.
Once again, Cibulkova restored her two-match lead advantage over Flipkens in 2014, thrashing her in Tokyo, 6-1, 6-3 and in the first round of the Australian Open in 2015. The 2014 finalist was defending those points and almost fell at the first hurdle but recovered from a set down to defeat Flipkens, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
The fourth seed continues to get better and better but Cibulkova has suffered some disappointing losses in 2017. Australian Open quarterfinalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova got the better of the Slovak in the fourth round in Indian Wells. Cibulkova needs to cut out playing back-to-back three-set matches, which could prevent the Slovak from making regular runs in the latter stages of tournaments. However, the world number four is one of the fittest players on the tour and is certainly one of the biggest fighters on the tour.
Flipkens is also short in stature like Cibulkova but packs a punch. The former top 15 player defeated Venus Williams at the Rio Olympics last year in a three-set battle. The 31-year-old's forehand is a good weapon and her serve is another strong aspect of her game. Her backhand slice is another weapon that she possesses in her game. However, Cibulkova is the firm favorite to win this contest, and if her returns are on fire, and if she can take care of her own service games, it could be a good day at the office for the new fourth-ranked player.
This will be the fourth match scheduled in the Stadium court at not before 4:30 pm local time weather permitting, and this section of the draw has opened up nicely. The winner of this match will face Ajla Tomljanovic or 2015 French Open finalist Lucie Safarova in the fourth round. It is a section of the draw that Cibulkova needs to take advantage and could go on a serious run in Miami but it has to be a match-by-match process for the Slovak.
Prediction: Cibulkova in straight sets