MELBOURNE, Australia — Dominika Cibulkova reproduced the kind of tennis that helped her reach the final last year as she beat two-time champion Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Under the closed roof at Rod Laver Arena, Cibulkova pounded 44 winners, including a dozen on her backhand side, and broke former No. 1-ranked Azarenka's serve seven times Monday to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the sixth time.
The No. 10-ranked Cibulkova, who lost the final here last year to the now-retired Li Na, next faces either top-ranked Serena Williams or Garbine Muguruza.
Azarenka, unseeded this year after her ranking slipped into the 40s following an injury-interrupted 2014, won the Australian title in 2012 and '13 and reached the quarterfinals last year. She opened the tournament with a win over 2013 semifinalist Sloane Stephens and then defeated No. 8-seeded Caroline Wozniacki — the U.S. Open finalist last year and former No. 1 — and No. 25 Barbora Zahlavov Stryova.
She won the first two games of the fourth-round match, too, before Cibulkova broke back and went on a six-game roll. Azarenka controlled the second set, despite slipping twice to the court, and was on level terms in the third until Cibulkova got the decisive break in the seventh game.
Cibulkova held to take a 5-3 lead, chasing a slice backhand into the corner and whipping a forehand crosscourt on game point, and then broke Azarenka's serve again.
"I just walked onto the court and all great memories came to my mind," she said, reflecting on how her run last year is inspiring her at the Australian Open, "I thought 'I'm a great player and I can do it.'"
The 1.61-meter (5-foot-3) Cibulkova used a powerful backhand to win important points in the first set, and then relied on her backhand to maximum effect.
"As you can see, I'm not the tallest player on tour, I need to have something extra if I want to beat these top players," she said. "This is my energy on the court, this is how I play."
Rain showers forced the roofs on all three stadium courts to be closed early, but they opened for later matches when the weather cleared. Play had to be stopped briefly when part of the new retractable roof on Margaret Court Arena leaked.
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