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Dominika Cibulkova

An upset of Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open fourth round has ensured diminutive Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova has joined a select group of players to have reached the quarterfinals at all four majors.

It’s some achievement for a player with just three titles to her name and a career-high ranking of No.12 four-and-a-half years ago.

The “energizer bunny” on tour, Cibulkova’s game is built on lightning foot speed and a weight of shot, which belies her diminutive 1.60m stature.

“My strengths are that I have good movement and am consistent from the back of the court,” Cibulkova has said. “I like to play as a bit of a counter-puncher. I think I'm quicker than the tallest players and I try to use that to my advantage.”

Where the 'pocket rocket' is able to match the power off the ground of some of her bigger opponents, it is the 24-year-old’s mental game, which has often gone missing, preventing her from fulfilling that all-court potential.

"When things get tight, I start to think more," she admitted after regrouping to beat Urszula Radwanska in Stanford last year.

A maiden tour title was a long time coming for the Bratislava native, regarded as among the best players out there without a title to their name until finally breaking through in Moscow in 2011.

Her career best run at a Grand Slam came at the 2009 French Open, where she again upset Sharapova, this time in straight sets in the quarterfinals, before falling to Dinara Safina.

The French Open has proven to be her most fruitful Grand Slam hunting ground.

In 2012 she reached the quarterfinals for the second time after upsetting world No.1 Victoria Azarenka in straight sets in the fourth round. She would subsequently fall to Samantha Stosur.

It was a telling straight sets triumph over Azarenka, having lost seven of the pair’s previous eight encounters, including a match in which she led the Belarusian by a set and 5-2 in Miami only months earlier.

"I am getting more mature and more tough mentally," she said after that win.

"I managed to go through these emotions. She was 6-5 up, and I said, ‘hey, come on, you have to play your game again and just make it’.”

Fast forward to her Australian Open 2014 dismantling of Sharapova and her post-match sentiments suggest a far more confident player, now able to draw on her big-match experiences from past successes in the slams.

“I was 100 per cent sure that I could win this match. I never doubted myself. I knew what I did and I did all the right things,” she declared.

“I watched (Ana) Ivanovic (beat Serena) Williams but that was a different story; I had already beaten Sharapova in a Grand Slam, at Roland Garros.”

It’s a turnaround in confidence, which has slowly manifested since winning her third tour title in Stanford last July.

There she beat another hoodoo opponent, Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, a player who had claimed their four previous meetings, including an embarrassing 6-0 6-0 thumping in the Sydney final.

Cibulkova admits being dealt a double bagel in such a crucial match haunted her for some time.

“The big difference between Sydney and today was I made the first game. After I won that, I looked at my coach and thought, ‘Here we go, I'm here, it's going to be good today’," Cibulkova said of the breakthrough.

If she gives her coach that same look in Wednesday’s quarterfinal it would shape to be an even better day.

A first Australian Open semfinal is on the line.

Friday, 19 December 2014
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