The power and the fight.
That’s what 24-year-old Dominika Cibulkova credits for her run to the final of AO2014, and what she hopes will take her to victory when she faces two-time finalist Li Na in Saturday’s showpiece event.
“I have it since I was little kid,” the Slovakian explained.
“When I play my best tennis, that's where you can see the power and the fight. You have to have something extra if you want to be one of the best tennis players and you are not the tallest.
“This is what is my extra.”
Cibulkova only stands 161 centimeters tall and is currently the shortest player in the top 25.
However, it is not impossible to become a top flight player because of a lack of height: calendar year Grand Slam winner Maureen Connolly was tiny, former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, was not a towering person, nor was former Australian Open champion Justine Henin. Former world No. 3 Amanda Coetzer stood only 157 centimeters tall.
“It's not about how tall are you,” Cibulkova said. “Even if you are tall, it doesn't mean that you are 100% going to make it. It's just you have to really want something and just believe in it. There is nothing more important than this.”
After her upset of Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals, Cibulkova’s closest friend in tennis, 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, came to greet her in the gym. She was happy for her friend, she gave the Slovakian a hug, and according to Cibulkova, they both broke down in tears of joy.
“She was a big inspiration,” Cibulkova said.
“When she won the Wimbledon, we are very close friends, we are one of the best friends, so I knew she was working like so hard for it, so she was the one who deserve it so much. When she won it I knew like everything is possible.”
Cibulkova reached a career high No. 12 back in 2009 after she reached the Roland Garros semifinals. With her run to the Australian Open final, the current world No. 24 will rise to around No. 13 and should she win the Australian title will be very close to reaching the top 10, which has been a stated goal of hers in the past. But she is tired of discussing the issue and would rather keep her mind on her on court tasks.
“I don't want to talk about it anymore,” she said. “So many years that everybody kept telling me, You should be top 10; why you not top 10? I'm just not. So we'll see what's going to happen. If I play like this, it might happen.”
A three-time WTA title winner, Cibulkova has been erratic at times during her career, has been troubled by injuries and has been through some big coaching changes
Last season, she hired Slovakian Fed Cup captain Matej Liptak to be her private coach. She is also working with a new physio, Iveta Stankova, and has encouragingly gone seven months without a significant injury.
Liptak and Cibulkova have worked on improving her body language and her overall perspective when she’s on court so that she can work through tough spots when she isn’t playing well.
“What helps me put bad points behind me is when I stay aggressive,” she said. “I just say be aggressive and even if I lose it I am OK, it doesn’t matter. But when I push and say I just want her to win the point, that’s the worst.”
By reaching the Australian Open final, Cibulkova has one-upped two other Slovak legends who own more career titles than she does, Daniela Hantuchova and Miloslav Mecir. Her small nation of 5.4 million people will be pulling hard for her in the final against Li, who hails from a country of 1.35 billion.
Cibulkova has faced Li four times and has never been able to pull off a victory. They have only faced off once on outdoor hard courts, last summer in Toronto, a tight 7-6 (1) 6-2 for Li.
Cibulkova will enter the a match as the underdog, but as indicated by her spectacular form in wins over Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Radwanska, she does have the level to pull off the upset, but will have to play her peak.
“She been in the finals of Grand Slam many times,” Cibulkova said. She already won a Grand Slam [2011 Roland Garros], so she knows how it is. I'm playing finals, so that's something beautiful. It's like a dream. So I will go just out there and try to do my best.”