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U.S. Open: Dominika Cibulkova fights off injury and advances

Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia gets medical attention on

Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia gets medical attention on the court after she cramps up in her leg against Evgeniya Rodina of Russia at the 2016 US Open Women's Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 31, 2016. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Beware the injured player, for they have nothing to lose.

Dominika Cibulkova was running for a forehand on Wednesday when she pulled up in agony. The pain was so bad, she couldn’t get off the court. Her U.S. Open looked as if it was coming to an end.

“I felt like I pulled my hamstring muscle and it was combined with cramping, so it was really, really hard and I couldn’t move from the center of the court,” Cibulkova said. “I couldn’t lay down, I couldn’t sit and I was confused and it was really, really painful.”

The trainer came to her aid near the baseline on Court 5 and applied heavy taping around the throbbing hamstring, and mercifully the cramping went away. It was the seventh game of the second set, and Cibulkova fought on.

Here’s the rub, figuratively and literally. Cibulkova, who lost the first set after holding a set point, played far better the rest of the way and came away with a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-2 win over Evgeniya Rodina to move into the third round. She won 24 of the last 27 points and the last 14 in a row.

Cibulkova had no idea that the injury was about to occur. The Slovak had been dealing with a right heel injury this summer that forced her out of the Rio Olympics. Now the aching thigh was robbing her of her speed, her greatest weapon, and it also meant she couldn’t launch herself into her serve.

“I couldn’t serve properly, but it was better tactically because she couldn’t do much with my second serve. I was just putting the service in,” Cibulkova said. “I knew I had to hit the ball 100 percent, there was no other way I could beat her. Then I started to play much better. So I have nothing to lose, it’s the only way I can win.”

How she finished the match made her think about how she should have started it. “My physical condition is very good, so I would say today I was maybe nervous ,” she said. “I should do this in the beginning, but was maybe hesitating too much, that’s why I made more mistakes.”

The crowd at Court 5, the middle of three contiguous courts, rallied behind her when it was apparent she would fight through the injury.

“I felt the crowd behind me from the beginning,” she said. “But after I started cramping, this is what fans like and I ‘m just happy I was able to come through for them.”

Cibulkova first played the Open in 2007. Because she had always played at New Haven the week before, she said she had never really experienced New York City. This year she skipped that tournament for rest.

“I was here one week before the tournament, first time in my tennis career I had a chance to see New York. It was different and I really liked it,” Cibulkova said. “We went to Empire State Building and Central Park, I went to Soho, just different things I’ve never done before. I never liked it too much, but now that I get to see a different side of it, New York is not that bad as I thought.”

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