Everything seemed to be stacked against Dominika Cibulkova heading into her 3rd round match at the Qatar Total Open last week. After all, she was facing the sixth seed and six-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams. Plus, at 5’3”, Cibulkova is 10 inches shorter than Venus, who stands at 6’1”. None of that fazed the 18-year old Slovakian, as she came out and shocked the tennis world with a 6-3 6-3 victory.
Cibulkova took advantage of the windy conditions and hammered away from the baseline. At 3-3 in the first set, she broke Williams to go up a break and never looked back. She finished off the set by taking the next two games and darted out to a 5-1 lead in the second set. Williams won the next two games, but the young Slovakian closed the door and ended the match with a forehand winner to advance to the quarterfinals to face Agnieszka Radwanska.
The win over Williams was the biggest of Cibulkova’s young career. Her biggest win to this point had come a few days ago, when she beat the ninth seed Patty Schnyder. Prior to this week, she had not beaten a top 20 player. She has now beaten two in the span of two matches.
“It feels unbelievable to have beaten Venus. She was one of my heroes growing up and to have played so well out there makes me feel so proud. I played some of my best tennis today and it’s amazing to have made the quarterfinals with all the great players in the draw,” Cibulkova said. “Before this week I had come close to beating some top players, but never quite done it and now to have got wins over Patty [Schnyder] and Venus in one week is amazing.”
Although she would lose in the quarterfinals in Doha, Cibulkova made her breakthrough. This tournament will give her confidence as she moves forward. Confidence and belief play a huge roll in the diminutive Slovakian’s success. She lacks the power her stronger opponents have, and due to her height, her serve is anything but big. Cibulkova relies on her ground strokes and her Kim Clijsters-like court coverage. She even has Clijsters’ signature split move. And she relies on her heart. Similar to another small player from the recent past, Amanda Coetzer, Cibulkova will fight to the end.
One thing is now certain. When players see Dominika Cibulkova’s name in the draw, they will take notice.