Cibulkova nearly pitches a shutout

Updated: June 2, 2009

Ova the hump

PARIS -- There are 20 Ovas in the main draw here at Roland Garros, 10 in each half of the draw.

Some of them -- Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Daniela Hantuchova -- are well-known even beyond tennis circles.

Dominika Cibulkova does not have the endorsement millions or the pretty, custom-made dresses or the global following of Sharapova, but on Tuesday the 20-year-old Slovakian had her number: two.

That's how many games Sharapova won in a 6-0, 6-2 quarterfinal loss.

It was very nearly a shutout.

Leading 5-0 in the second set, Cibulkova had match point on her racket but a forehand drifted just long.

"In this moment I realized I can beat, you know, Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-0 and to go to semifinals in a Grand Slam," Cibulkova explained later. "I got shocked a little bit, you know, and I realized everything."

Sharapova, supported enthusiastically by the Suzanne Lenglen crowd, won her first game of the match at the 63-minute mark and saved four match points before her last forehand found the net.

Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Dominika Cibulkova will make her fourth semifinal appearance on the WTA Tour and first at a Grand Slam.

Cibulkova fell back into the red dirt and shrieked with happiness. The giddiness won't last long; she faces No. 1-ranked Dinara Safina in the semifinals Thursday.

Safina survived a slow start against Victoria Azarenka but went on to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Afterward, Cibulkova said she was surprised by the crowd.

"This never happen to me that so many people were like -- they were maybe not against me, but they wanted Maria to go to beat me," she said. "In the beginning I got a little bit pissed. You know, like why against me? But then I realized I cannot think of these things."

For Sharapova, it was a disappointing departure. After a long hiatus following shoulder surgery, she won four matches here -- all of them in three sets. At least for another year, anyway, there will be no French Open crown to complete her Grand Slam collection.

The extra time on the court is just what she needs to build a base for the upcoming fortnight at Wimbledon, where she has a more realistic chance of winning.

"I guess you could only ask your body to do so much," Sharapova said. "Everything fell a little short today. I was five steps slower today."

Cibulkova is ranked No. 19 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and, at 5-foot-3, 125 pounds, close to the ground and solidly built, with a massive, braided blond pony tail. She talks to herself incessantly on the court and plays with a lot of energy.

She had never been past the third round of a Grand Slam, but at this year's Australian Open she ventured into the fourth round, where she lost to Elena Dementieva. At Roland Garros, she needed three sets to get by Alona Bondarenko in the first round, but handled Kirsten Flipkens, Gisela Dulko and even No. 29 seed Agnes Szavay in straight sets to land in the quarterfinals.

And now, Cibulkova finds herself in a Grand Slam semifinal.

"I think more surprising for the people who don't know me," she said. "Maybe for the crowd. But today I was playing very solid from the baseline. I knew if I make her move, yeah, then I have this chance."

Five things we learned on Day 10

1. Andy Murray isn't ready to win in Paris: With the possibility of reaching the No. 2 ranking here this week, he fell in four sets to Fernando Gonzalez on Tuesday.

"It's been very good for me, a lot better than previous years," Murray said. "I stayed injury-free. Physically I felt good on the court. I thought I moved better.

"I mean, it's not like the Nadal result or whatever. But next year if I can improve a round or so each tournament, not have one early loss and consistently get to the end of the tournaments -- that would be good."

Gonzalez, for the record, is tearing it up at Roland Garros. He's won 15 of 16 sets and was the only man who came into the quarterfinals without having dropped a set.

2. Maria needs to cut down on the carbs: Coming into Roland Garros, Maria Sharapova had been bageled only six times; the first was at an ITF event in 2002 against Laura Granville.

Twice she lost 6-0 here: First against Na Li in the fourth round and then on Tuesday against Dominika Cibulkova. She narrowly averted a third.

3. Victoria Azarenka must keep her emotions in check: She was up on the world No. 1 Dinara Safina a set and 4-1, but gradually melted down -- and out. After landing 93 percent of her first serves in the first set, she struggled the rest of the way. Azarenka was broken four times in the final set.

Afterward, she was asked whether the wind had bothered her serve.

"I don't know," she said. "It was just something with my emotion. I didn't feel it. I didn't know what was going on. I have no idea."

"I'll have to work on it."

4. Andy Roddick is ready to hit the grass: After losing to Gael Monfils in straight sets, he was asked to assess his clay-court season:

"It's not even going to be my thought process for a while," Roddick said. "I'm probably more focused on getting on the grass.

"You know, I accomplished a goal by getting in the second week here. Obviously now it's tough to wrap my head around anything that I'll be thinking tomorrow or two days from now."

5.Tennis Tweet of the day: "Some funny comments on Fed's slow start yesterday. [The] best: Fed was looking a little married. I hadn't thought of that. Pregnant 2."

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Greg Garber is a senior writer for


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Two happy Swedes


On Tuesday, Robin Soderling came down to earth quickly after his massive upset of Rafael Nadal -- maybe all of two minutes into his match with Nikolay Davydenko.

"I was a little bit lucky in the beginning," Soderling explained. "I saved two break points in the first game and I broke him straightaway. So instead of maybe being down 2-0, I was up 2-0.

"You're expecting a really, really tough match in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, but I have to say it was a little bit tougher than the score was."

Soderling smoked two-time French Open semifinalist Davydenko 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 to book a table in the final four at Roland Garros. He'll meet Fernando Gonzalez, who pasted Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4.

After stunning Nadal, Soderling had said he expected a text message from fellow Swede Bjorn Borg. Borg profited from Soderling's victory because it left him tied with Nadal for most consecutive titles in Paris with four.

"He said, 'Congratulations, and thank you for not letting Nadal break my record,'" Soderling said. "I think he will be down here maybe tomorrow.

"It was very big for me to receive an SMS from him. He's maybe the best player of all time."

-- Greg Garber

One and far from done


She sat a little uncomfortably on the edge of the wooden bench in the interview area, but Liezel Huber did not speak of any pain.

In fact, she suffered a slipped disc in her back Thursday and is not playing at 100 percent. Still, at the age of 32, Huber can't complain.

The native of Durban, South Africa who became an American citizen is on top of the doubles world these days. She and partner Cara Black, the No. 1 seeds, defeated Bethanie Mattek and Nadia Petrova 6-3, 6-3 on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals of women's doubles. She and Bob Bryan, the No. 1 seeds in mixed doubles, are also in the semifinals.

Mattek-Petrova was the team that knocked the Williams sisters out of the tournament a few days ago.

"It's tough to defend such a big win," Huber said. "Cara and I watched that match -- it was one of the best doubles matches I've seen in awhile."

Her scope takes in some territory because Black and Huber have 25 titles together, including four Grand Slams. The last one came at the U.S. Open, a tournament that Huber had always imagined would be her last.

Instead, she has a different agenda.

"Before, it was 'How do you become No. 1?'" Huber said. "Then it was 'How do you stay No. 1?' Now it's 'How do you become a better No. 1?'"

Huber became an American citizen in July 2007, and four months later she and Black became the world's No. 1-ranked doubles team. She has hired a fitness trainer, Roger Anderson, to help keep her edge.

Just don't ask her to play singles. Her last year of playing one-on-one was 2003, but surgeries for foot and shoulder injuries ended that. She had reconstructive knee surgery in 2005, but has stayed relatively healthy since.

Having spent more than half her life in the United States, Huber said it was natural to become a citizen.

"This is home," she said, smiling at her husband, Tony, who is also her coach. "I am very happy to represent the United States."

Huber and her husband own a 10-acre ranch in Houston, Texas, the Huber Tennis Ranch, which features 11 hard courts.

She was part of the Fed Cup team that beat Argentina and the Czech Republic, and she hopes to be part of the team that takes on Italy in the final in November. Huber is low-key and effervescent, but she doesn't get the attention that the other American megastars do.

But on Tuesday, she was heading off to the hairdresser. The International Tennis Federation banquet was scheduled for later in the evening. The Williams sisters, Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan brothers won't be receiving any awards -- but Huber and Black will for the top doubles team.

Her goal is to play through the 2012 Olympics in London, when she would be pushing 36.

"By golly," Huber said, "I'm going to try and make it my goal."

-- Greg Garber

One and done


Suddenly, both junior tournaments are without their top seeds.

On Tuesday, No. 1 Laura Robson of Great Britain was swept aside by Sandra Zaniewska of Poland 7-6 (10), 1-6, 6-3.

Yes, you read that score right. Robson lost the first-set tiebreaker 12-10 when she dumped a forehand into the net.

On the boys' side, Germany's Richard Becker took down No. 1 seed Liang-Chi Huang of Chinese Taipei in the first round. Becker will face American Tennys Sandgren in a third-round match.

Sandgren, a 17-year-old from Gallatin, Tenn., defeated Croatia's Marin Draganja 6-3, 6-2. Sandgren is the last American boy left in the single draw after Harry Fowler lost to Yannik Reuter of Belgium 6-3, 6-3.

American girls still alive: No. 14 seed Christina McHale, No. 15 seed Sloane Stephens and unseeded Beatrice Capra.

-- Greg Garber

Critic's choice


No. 7 Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. No. 2 Serena Williams: Although Williams recently called the women's tour "catty,'' insiders say these two are actually pals in the locker room. That doesn't mean they won't be clawing hard for a semifinal berth. Kuznetsova had played a lot more matches on clay coming in and has breezed through the draw so far, while Williams has struggled in two of her four matches. Williams holds a 6-1 edge in their career series and won their only match on clay in 2004. If she keeps winning, she still has a slim chance of taking over No. 1 and making good on her declaration that she deserves that ranking. Actions will speak louder than words. prediction: Williams in three.

-- Bonnie D. Ford