Perhaps only Serena Williams can sleep walk through a set and a half and still beat a player as accomplished as Dominika Cibulkova.
Williams was trailing the 14th-ranked Slovak 2-6, 1-4 before turning it around to reach the quarterfinals of the Sony Open, a tournament she has already won five times, by 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
At the beginning it was dire. Serena’s feet didn’t move; balls flew out of the court; balls plopped into the net. All Cibulkova had to do was keep the ball in play.
Serena told herself she had been in more difficult situations. “I just thought to myself, I’ve been down worse. It’s nothing new. Just keep fighting. I never give up. Doesn’t matter whether it’s in life or on the court, I keep fighting.”
Actually Serena was having quite lengthy conversations with herself. “When I’m down, I talk to myself a lot,” she said, laughing. “I look crazy because I’m constantly having an argument with myself.”
Admitting there were two Serenas out there, she added, “I’m talking to myself inside and she’s talking back and giving me lip. I give her a little attitude and then I tell her she sucks and she tells me to shut up. We get into it a little bit. Then we get along.”
One of them was telling the other to get into the net and the Serena sitting in the media room admitted that it was a good plan. “Yeah, I feel like coming to the net helped to play a little bit better and play more aggressive. I was not feeling my game today. I was too stressed out and not really calm out there for no reason. And I was playing a really good player who is a good fighter.”
The white Rolls Royce was in the parking lot, so, unlike her previous match, Serena did not cycle to the courts today. It was suggested a bit of peddling might have helped to get her legs moving at the start of the match. “Yeah, maybe I should start riding a bike more often. Good point.”
By the time she got her act together, Serena was playing plenty of good points and, once she starting timing the ball properly, the diminutive Cibulkova was simply taken out of the play. But, one thing seems certain, in her next match against the No 5 seed Li Na, Serena will need to get the conversation sorted out a lot earlier.
There was more disappointment for Sloane Stephens, who has been struggling since her great semifinal showing at the Australian Open. After playing an excellent first set, Stephens, who is now ranked No. 15 in the world, fell away against the defending champion and No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and went down 4-6, 6-2, 6-0.