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Cibulkova prevails against Safarova in opening round of Pan Pacific Open

Kyodo

Sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova outlasted Lucie Safarova in three sets to book a second-round meeting with teenager Naomi Osaka at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Cibulkova, the world No. 12, dropped the first set of an absorbing encounter but regrouped to prevail 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 in 2 hours, 24 minutes under the roof at Ariake Colosseum.

The Slovak takes on Osaka, who beat compatriot Misaki Doi in her first-round match Monday, in what will be her first meeting with the big-serving 18-year-old.

“I have seen her (Osaka) play a few times. She is tall and I know she has a powerful serve and is playing powerful tennis. It is always tough playing against these young players that are coming up,” Cibulkova said.

“They are fearless and have nothing to lose. But I have played so many matches like this in my career and I just had a great win today against Lucie so I want to keep my confidence and play well.

“I know she (Osaka) is a good server but I don’t know what her favorite serve is and there is going to be some work for my coach today. It is going to be different tennis than today and there won’t be so many rallies.”

Safarova secured the first break with a sizzling crosscourt backhand beyond Cibulkova’s reach to take a 5-4 lead and closed out the first set when the Slovak’s return went long.

A delicate backhand drop shot saw Cibulkova break her Czech opponent to go 3-1 in front in the second set. She took the next two games in dominant fashion before serving out to level the match.

Both players went for broke in a fiercely contested final set but Cibulkova won it with an audacious drop shot, with Safarova in no position to make the return.

“I have to say it was an extremely good match today from both sides. I have to admit that Lucie played really well and it was about a few points,” the 27-year-old Cibulkova said.

“It felt great playing out on center court in my first match here. I was really relaxed and I was just doing what I could. There were so many tough situations that I handled really well. That is what made me win today and I am really happy with my performance.”

In the day’s opening match on center court, seventh-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova posted a 6-3, 6-3 win over American Madison Brengle. She will next meet Rio Olympic champion Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, a 6-0, 6-3 winner over American Varvara Lepchenko on Monday.

Rain meant all of Tuesday’s outdoor matches at Ariake Tennis Forest Park had to be moved inside to the National Training Center in Tokyo’s Kita Ward.

The top four seeds here — Garbine Muguruza, Pliskova, defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro — all have first-round byes.

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