Paris: Sam Stosur cannot let Dominika Cibulkova play the way she likes to, and Cibulkova knows she cannot allow Stosur to play the way she has. Stosur takes a 4-0 career advantage into Friday's French Open third round, and a determination to continue with what has worked so successfully before.
Stosur, the 19th seed, has made an impressive start to this edition of her most consistent grand slam, losing just six games in reaching the last 32 for the sixth successive year. The heavy padding on her gashed left shin has not been a hindrance to the 2010 finalist, and neither Monica Puig nor Yvonne Meusburger has handled her powerful, clay-suitable game.
Ditto, in the past, for Cibulkova. The Slovakian stands just 161-centimetres, and has struggled to deal with the high-kicking Stosur serve, most recently in a 6-4, 6-0 loss in Madrid, where she conceded the last 10 games after winning the first four. Two years ago the venue was Roland Garros, where Stosur won 6-4, 6-1. Something has to change - if not, absolutely not, for Stosur.
"I'm going to be confident going into that match, and I know what's worked in the past and what I will have to do,'' Stosur said after Wednesday's 6-1, 6-3 win against Meusburger. "But I know when I've never beaten somebody you certainly go out there wanting to win. If you have lost, what, four matches or whatever, maybe it's time to try something different. So I will certainly have to be aware of what she's going to come out and try and do and really be smart at the start.''
Different is Cibulkova's obvious theme - as it would be, considering she is yet to win even one of her eight sets against 18th-ranked Stosur. "She's obviously a tough opponent for me, but I'm feeling it's a little bit different story this year,'' said the ninth seed, who noted Stosur's relatively inconsistent results.
"I'm feeling confident, feeling much better ... so I know what I have to do better against her. The serve is doing a little challenge to me but I try to do some changes and we'll see what is going to happen.''
The kick serve. "Yeah, yeah, but you have two options; you can go back or you can go into the court and that's what I'm doing, or playing, this year better, because I'm taking the return much earlier on the base line,'' said Cibulkova, while also acknowledging the benefits to Stosur of being able to run on to her powerful forehand side on the slow red clay.
"So we'll decide with my coach what we're going to do now, and obviously I have to change something against her, because what I did [before] wasn't working, so we'll see, we have to do something new.''
While Australian Open men's champion Stan Wawrinka has spoken of the pressure and expectations that come with his new status, Cibulkova, as a first time major runner-up (to Li Na), believes she has managed her new and improved status well.
She also rates herself as a more consistent and confident player for having got so close to a grand slam title, capable of beating anyone when playing at her best. Which, against Stosur, she hasn't. "She's a tough opponent for me, but I think one day I feel like I have to beat her.''
Or not, from Stosur's perspective.
Serena Williams' premature exit means that the French Open just got a little bit more interesting. Maria Sharapova, that annoying old Stosur nemesis doubling as the new title favourite, remains in the Queenslander's potential fourth-round path, but there will now be no quarter-final - for anyone - against Williams, the 17-time grand slam champion.
"It was a big upset,'' said Stosur, who also beat Serena-slaying Garbine Muguruza in Madrid last month, and noted of the 20-year-old Venezuelan/Spaniard: "I think she's a very good player and I think she will continue to improve. She obviously played very, very well today ... That section is open now. I don't think it really affects me just yet.''
The story Sam Stosur's French Open optimism against Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.