By Matt Cronin, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, who is the third seed at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University, first burst on to the world scene in 2008, when she reached the finals of two North American tournaments at Amelia Island and Montreal and cracked the top 20 at the age of 19. That summer at Stanford, she played one of the most memorable matches in tournament history, as on a hot afternoon, she led former top-10 player Ai Sugiyama, 7-6 (4), 5-2, and held three match points at 5-4 in the second set but could not convert any of them. She later retired due to cramping, down 5-3 on match point in the third set, when she couldn’t stand on her left leg. It was a sad scene, as Cibulkova fell to the court on her back and began crying. A super-competitive type, she was hard on herself at the time for not hydrating enough and making mental mistakes. "I know I’m still learning, but it’s really tough," she said following that match.
The next year, she showed her resiliency by reaching the semifinals of Roland Garros, crushing Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. She reached a career-high No. 12 ranking that summer. Last year, she won her first WTA Premier tournament in Moscow, and while she has yet to win a major, the now 23-year-old has been a factor in many Grand Slam tournaments. Even though she only stands 5-foot-3, Cibulkova has as much power off the ground as anyone on tour. She talked to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com before her first match at Stanford, which is the first WTA tournament of the Emirates Airline US Open Series. She is on the same side of the draw as top seed Serena Williams.
Q: Apparently you had quite an adventure getting to Stanford.
CIBULKOVA: I was supposed to go from Vienna to Munich to San Francisco, which is pretty normal, but our flight got canceled, so we went from Vienna to Dubai to San Francisco, and it was like going to Australia. It was 32 hours before we got here, and then they didn’t have our luggage. It was crazy the last two days.
Q: Can you talk about your experience at Stanford last year when you had to pull out?
CIBULKOVA: It was good memories and bad memories. It was my first tournament after Wimbledon, where I had made the quarters and I was confident. I was supposed to play semis [at Stanford], but I tore my abdominal muscle, and it put me out for five weeks. I had to go home, so it wasn’t a nice American tour for me.
Q: Your ranking is up this year, and you have had some good results.
CIBULKOVA: Every week is different. I had a great run at Roland Garros and reached the quarters. I beat [No. 1 Victoria] Azarenka, and it was very emotional for me because I had many matches before where I should have beaten her and I didn’t. I was really happy. I lost first round at Wimbledon, which was pretty unlucky. Hopefully the US Open Series will bring me where I want to go.
Q: What was the greatest win of your career?
CIBULKOVA: It’s hard to say. There’s bad and good with every tournament. I made the quarters of the US Open [in 2010] and then lost second round the next year. Maybe when I reached the semis of Roland Garros [in 2009] or the quarters of Wimbledon last year.
Q: It’s a pretty big challenge to stay focused from week to week.
CIBULKOVA: One week you are up, the other down, and I’ve tried to learn the lesson to not make such a big deal of everything.
Q: What is the most exciting match you have ever played?
CIBULKOVA: Five years ago against Serbia in Fed Cup, and I was ranked around 200, and Jelena Jankovic was ranked in the top 10. It was at home, and there were big crowds -- 8000 people -- and it was my first big match. I lost in over three hours and 45 minutes, but after that, I was a hero at home because I killed her for the next day, as she couldn’t play. We won, so it was a very memorable match.
Q: Who are your best friends on tour?
CIBULKOVA: There aren’t many girls if I was at home I would go to coffee with, but I’m very friendly with a lot of the girls.
Q: If you were a journalist, which player would you like to interview, and why?
CIBULKOVA: Andre Agassi. I read his book, and I loved it. I never knew him so much, and I realized what a big athlete and person he is.
Q: What is your best quality on court?
CIBULKOVA: When I get in my zone and fight for every ball. Maybe opponents don’t like it because I like bite and hang in there and don’t want to let it go.
Q: What is your best quality off court?
CIBULKOVA: I’m very positive and have positive energy.
Q: If you had to pick a theme song for yourself, what would it be?
CIBULKOVA: I really love Rihanna, so it would be her song, "Where Have You Been."
Q: Who would you choose to go on vacation with?
CIBULKOVA: My boyfriend. We've been to so many places, so I need to get some new ideas from other girls. I like [hot] places but also places where there are things to do because some of the islands we went to there is nothing to do after 10 p.m.
Q: Which actress would you like to play you in a movie?
CIBULKOVA: Scarlett Johansson. I like her very much.
Q: What is something that fans don't know about you?
CIBULKOVA: I’m very a messy person, and if you come to my room there are clothes everywhere. So my boyfriend has to take care of it. But in some particular things, I’m [overly organized]. Like on my night table, my water has to be over here, my creams have to be here, my phone here. But everything else, I'm messy. My boyfriend jokes about it, and if he wants to put something on the night table, I go crazy.