MIAMI - Dominika Cibulkova saved three match points in a gritty three-set victory over third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the semi-finals of the Miami Masters hardcourt tournament.
The 10th-seeded Slovakian, who was runner-up at the Australian Open in January, will break into the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time on the strength of the 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 triumph.
"I knew before the match that this was the match I needed to win to become top 10," Cibulkova said.
"So it was some more pressure, but I'm obviously very happy with the way I handled it today."
Cibulkova is in the Miami semi-finals for the first time, and awaits the winner last night's match between Chinese second seed Li Na and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
Li beat Cibulkova in the Australian Open final, and also won the rematch in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells earlier this month.
One semi-final has already been set, with world number one, top seed and defending champion Serena Williams due to take on fourth-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova.
Cibulkova, who swept past Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, had a bigger fight on her hands yesterday on a windy Stadium Court where service holds were at a premium.
Fourteen of the first 18 games of the contest were breaks of serve, with Radwanska finally fending off three break points to hold serve for a 5-4 lead in the second set.
The world number three from Poland had three chances to seal the match in the next game — most dramatically at 30-40 when her blistering service return was judged long only after a challenge by Cibulkova.
Cibulkova, determined not to go down without a fight, saved two more match points with forehand winners as she held to knot the set at 5-5.
Another exchange of breaks sent them to the tiebreaker, in which Radwanska seized a 5-2 lead, only for Cibulkova to win the next five points to force a third set.
Cibulkova couldn't hang on to a 2-0 lead in the third, but after Radwanska had leaved the set at 3-3, the Slovakian held for a 4-3 lead and broke again for a 5-3 edge and the chance to serve for the match.
Once again she had to save a string of break points before wrapping up the victory, her 20th match win of a season that has included a run to the WTA title in Acapulco.
"This win really means a lot to me," Cibulkova said. "It's always tough to play Aga, but I knew I just had to stay aggressive. If you make some mistakes with Aga, you still have to stay aggressive. That's the way I play and it's the only way to beat her. I just had to keep going."