By Matt Cronin
FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – Dominica Cibulkova will likely face this question every year for the rest of her career: why have two women whom she faced off against in the juniors, Victoria Azarenka, and Caroline Wozniacki, been able to reach No.1, and she hasn’t? The Slovak was born in 1989, the same year that Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sabine Lisicki and Yanina Wickmayer were. Right behind them 1990 babies Wozniacki and Sorana Cirstea, whom she also saw plenty of in the juniors and will play in Bank of the West semis.
Given how hard she hits the ball, it would be ridiculous to say that because Cibulkova is short that she is always facing an uphill battle power- wise. She can crack groundies with anyone and is pretty fast. Clearly, at 5-foot-3, her serve will never be a big weapon, but her first serve is very decent. Radwanska faces the same challenge and her overall results have been better than Cibulkova’s. Even Lisicki just reached a Slam final. So perhaps “Domi’s” lack of a big title is in her head.
“Tennis at this level is 80 percent mental so when you are well prepared mentally, you handle it better on court,” Cibulkova said. “Sometimes my emotions go through me and then I don’t play the same tennis, or when it’d starting to get tight I start to think more, so maybe I go for too much because I want to go against the emotions. What I need to get into the top 10 is to play the same level.”
Cibulkova pulled off a fine 7-5, 6-3 win over Urszula Radwanska in the quarters, who pulled muscle in her right ankle in the third game of the second set. The younger Radwanska is a tougher out than she used to be, and is more than just a counterpuncher, but she prefers longer points while Cibulkova likes to slug it out – for the most part. She can play more patiently at times and with the help of her coach Matej Liptak, made a strategic shift to go down the line more rather than constantly going crosscourt.
“She’s really good at reading the game and what I did good was changing, so she couldn’t read it and didn’t know what to do anymore.”
Cibulkova, who understands Polish, heard Radwanska complaining about the court (“it’s to fast,” it’s too fast”) and knew she had a mental edge. She can hit flat and through the court. But in order to close out the match, she had to mix it up. However, she does not think she’s peaked intellectually as a player.
“I wouldn’t say a much smarter player,” she said.
Cibulkova needs to be though if she going to realize her top-10 dreams. She has had an up and down season, mostly due to injury, but she has cracked the top 15 before and is chock full of ambition. She is still often caught in between being a first strike demon and being more of a conservative player. Working the points more would benefit her, but when she gets on a roll she can’t resist going for the corners. Sometimes, like for abut half of her win over Radwanska, her balls kiss them.
Cibulkova does admit that she still does compare herself to her peer group from the juniors, but not in negative way where she gets depressed because she hasn’t had their success, but in a more a positive way where she treats them just like she did when they traded strokes as kids—as equals. She will surely do the same when she plays another slugger in Cirstea on Saturday afternoon.
“Of course that why when I am going to play against Caroline or Azarenka and they were No. 1, I’m not playing against No.1, but someone I’ve known since juniors,” she said.