Just before her 2014 Australian summer campaign began in Brisbane, Dominika Cibulkova admitted that she compares herself to other players of her own generation and believes that she is just as good as any of them.
With her 6-1 6-2 thrashing of one of those women, Agnieszka Radwanska, to become the first Slovakian to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, she is very close to proving that.
The 20th seed played near perfect ball on Thursday afternoon, adeptly controlling the court against a woman whom came into the semifinals with a 5-1 record against her and just 13 months ago had crushed her 6-0 6-0 in the Sydney final.
But Cibulkova refused to be yanked around the court, or confused by the tricks in Radwanska's magic bag and instead hit through and around her.
She attacked Radwanska’s second serves, easily won their forehand exchanges, moved more quickly and played a much more inspired contest than Radwanska, who looked flat after her three set upset of defending champion Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday
The 24-year-old Cibulkova has been plagued by inconsistency in the past but at this tournament has played lights out all the way through, up-ending 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, destroying up-and-comer Simona Halep in the quarterfinals and then looking like a multiple Grand Slam title holder in the way she composed herself against world No. 5 Radwanska.
After her 2013 Sydney debacle, Cibulkova began to turn her mental game around last summer and managed to beat Radwanska in the final of Stanford in three sets, a win that showed her that she had found the key to unlock some of the secrets to the Pole’s treasure chest of a game.
Cibulkova broke the erratic Radwanska at love to win the Australian Open semifinal and fell to her back in joy, bicycle kicking with big smile on her face.
Nicknamed the “Pocket Rocket” because of her lack of height (159 cm) and muscular frame, Cibulkova finished the contest with 21 winners, forced Radwanska into 18 errors and committed 20 errors herself, an impressive plus-19 differential.
Cibulkova hails from an excellent generation of player that filled up the 2005 ITF junior rankings, a group that included herself, Radwanska, two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, 2011 Wimbledon titlist Petra Kvitova, 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki, and a slew of former and current top 25 players like Sorana Cirstea, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Alisa Kleybanova and Yanina Wickmayer.
Azarenka, Kvitova, Wozniacki and Radwanska (2012 Wimbledon) had all reached major finals before, but it took Cibulkova until Thursday to pull off the feat. But seeing what they accomplished, she kept faith in herself.
“We were pushing each other,” she said. “It’s still this way and they motivate me more. If they can do it, I can do it too.”
Cibulkova will face Li Na in the final, whom she is 1-4 against but played reasonably close in the Toronto semis last summer in a 7-6 6-2 loss in the quarters.
She said that when she came on tour full-time in 2006, she couldn't even conceive of a Slam title. But times have changed.
“When I first came on tour I only wanted to be top 100, that was my dream. It’s changed a lot, it’s different when you come your are 24 than 17.”