Cibulkova, Garcia advance in Tokyo

Cibulkova, the Slovakian world No. 9, produced glimpses of the red-hot form that won her four of her eight career titles last year with some brutal hitting in the Tokyo sunshine.
Cibulkova, Garcia advance in Tokyo

Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia serves to Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain during her 6-3, 6-3 first-round victory at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo on September 19, 2017.

Fifth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova is targeting a strong finish to the season after dispatching Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-3 to book a second-round spot at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Cibulkova has momentum after posting her best result of the season in August when reaching the final of the Connecticut Open.

She carried that to Tokyo, racing 5-1 ahead. Suarez Navarro broke in a seventh game that contained four deuces, and briefly threatened to fight her way back.

Last year's WTA Finals champion, Cibulkova broke in the third game of the second set, and again to love in the final game.

It has rarely gone so well for Cibulkova this year. The weight of expectation following last year's four titles proved too much.

"Since the trip to the US, even though I lost in the third round in Cincinnati to Jo Konta, I started to feel I was coming back," she said.

"Then in New Haven, even though I lost the final, I was really close to winning. Right now, I feel the best on court that I have all year.

"I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, that I have to repeat the same great year. Now I've lost this pressure. I want to enjoy the fact I've found my form and I feel fresh for this tournament and the others in Asia. I want to take this chance."

Cibulkova next plays Katerina Siniakova. The Czech defeated qualifier Jana Cepelova 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Polish qualifier Magda Linette surprised Cibulkova's Connecticut conqueror, Daria Gavrilova, 2-6, 6-0, 7-6 (3). Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova lies in wait on Wednesday.

Caroline Garcia — seeded following the withdrawal of virus-hit Agnieszka Radwanska — beat lucky loser Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4 6-3. Garcia next meets home-crowd favorite Kurumi Nara, handed a wildcard entry.

Defending champion

Shelby Rogers of the United States will face defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, after defeating wildcard Risa Ozaki 6-2, 7-6 (5).

Last year's surprise Rio Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig also advanced but had to work to beat Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-wei 2-6, 6-1, 6-1.

The Puerto Rican will face top seed Garbine Muguruza in the last 16.

In other matches, Russians twice got the better of their American rivals, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova battling past Catherine Bellis 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 and Daria Kasatkina also taking three sets to see off Madison Brengle 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

In Seoul, South Korean wildcard Han Na-lae overpowered third-seeded Kristyna Pliskova 6-4, 6-4 on Tuesday, in a tournament upset that earned her a place in the Korea Open second round, AFP reported.

The 25-year-old Korean player held her ground against fearsome server Pliskova, whose identical twin sister Karolina is the former world No. 1.

Han led by a set and break before Pliskova briefly leveled the second set.

But the Korean, who is ranked 274 in the world and tends to play a stronger game in front of a home crowd, fought back to clinch the match.     

Pliskova, ranked 42, served seven aces against Han, but struggled to land first serves and she looks to regain momentum after injuring her dominant hand at the Jiangxi Open in Nanchang.

Han is now lined up to face Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Elsewhere, top seeded Jelena Ostapenko beat Sweden's Johanna Larsson, 7-6 (6), 6-1 for her place in the second round. The Latvian is the French Open champion.

Also, American Nicole Gibbs beat another home hope Jang Su-jeong, 6-3, 7-5.

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