Hunter becomes hunted for Cibulkova

For world No.5 Dominika Cibulkova, the hunter has become the hunted in 2017.

Not that she had to be reminded after surviving a Brisbane International second round scare on Wednesday.

Second seed Cibulkova dug deep to avoid a boilover, coming back from a set and 2-0 down in the second against China’s world No.23 Zhang Shuai.

She hung on to win 2-6 6-4 6-4 in just over two hours at Pat Rafter Arena, booking a quarter-final against France’s Alize Cornet.

Then again, the Slovakian knew she would be feeling the heat backing up from her career’s biggest win when she arrived for the season opener in Brisbane.

Cibulkova is still buzzing from claiming the WTA Finals in Singapore in October, downing world No.1 Angelique Kerber in the decider.

And she was named 2016 WTA Comeback Player of the Year after returning from an Achilles injury and a ranking as low as 66th in February.

The former Australian Open finalist said she now felt like she had a price on her head after a breakout 2016.

“I am now in a situation for the first time, you can feel the expectation and pressure,” she said.

“I have been No.8 or No.10 before but this is my highest ranking – this a little bit different.

“It’s something I am trying to deal with but I think I handled it pretty well. I didn’t panic even after losing the first set.”

Cibulkova was on the back foot from the outset against former Australian Open quarter-finalist Zhang.

The world No.23 broke in the sixth game and sealed the first set in 45 minutes.

And she jumped to a 2-0 lead in the second before Cibulkova finally regained her composure.

“I was prepared for a fight,” Cibulkova said.

“It was my first match. I knew it was not going to be easy.

“I didn’t expect for myself to play my best tennis but I’m happy I managed to come back from the match.”

Meanwhile, fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia ended Australian qualifier Destanee Aiava’s stunning run in the second round.

The dual grand slam winner won 6-4 6-3 in 70 minutes, setting up a blockbuster quarter-final clash with fourth seed and reigning French Open champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

“Garbine is top five in the world. It’s a great match-up for the tournament and for both of us to have such a good match at the start of the year,” world No.9 Kuznetsova said.

Eighth seed Roberta Vinci of Italy downed Japan’s Misaki Doi 6-4 6-2 in their second round clash.

She next plays Czech world No.6 Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals.

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