Dominika Cibulkova wins La Costa tennis title

CARLSBAD — It wasn’t as if she was a longshot to win the Mercury Insurance Open, but before Sunday’s tournament final, Dominika Cibulkova had only one singles title to her name.

But after an impressive week at La Costa Resort and Spa, the WTA’s latest tour stop, Cibulkova exited the final in the same fashion as each of her other victories — having dispatched her opponent in straight sets.

Cibulkova, seeded second, defeated top-seeded Marion Bartoli, 6-1, 7-5, and took a giant step toward proving her legitimacy among the world’s top tennis players. With the win, Cibulkova earns a winner’s check of $96,000 and will move into the No. 13 spot in the WTA rankings.

Not a bad prelude to playing in the Olympics next week.

“I just played my game, and the first set everything was going my way,” Cibulkova said. “My forehand was working today 100%, and also my serve return.”

Cibulkova, a 23-year-old from Slovakia, benefited this week by not allowing her opponents to extend matches to a third set. As a result, she was on the court half as much as France’s Bartoli leading up to the final.

And it showed, especially early. Cibulkova’s energy allowed her to leap and add extra power on her backhands. Then, when Bartoli would play back, Cibulkova would mix in a gently placed drop shot.

Cibulkova quickly won the first set capitalizing on that strategy, playing off her superior ability to move around the court.

In the second set, Bartoli appeared poised to even the match when she took a 4-1 lead. Not even a nagging ankle injury prevented Bartoli from returning Cibulkova’s shots for winners, and she celebrated each point with a waist-level fist pump.

But the celebrating was short-lived. Once Cibulkova settled down, she reeled off four consecutive games to regain the lead, 5-4, before eventually claiming the set when Bartoli hit the net on a forehand. Cibulkova dropped to the court near the net and rose with a smile, shaking her clenched fists.

The she celebrated with a ride down the resort water slide.

“If you want to be top 10, you have to have good results,” Cibulkova said. “I played [in the] finals and … won a tournament. Let’s see what’s going to happen in the Olympics.”