By Nicholas J. Walz
Throughout the year, EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com will feature players who could make an impact during this year's Series. Here’s a look at 24-year-old Slovak Dominika Cibulkova.
The Baseline: Cibulkova went from solid professional to Grand Slam contender after her best showing as a professional, downing higher seeds Carla Suarez Navarro, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska consecutively before falling to Li Na in the 2014 Australian Open final.
Currently at No. 13, she is now two spots away from eclipsing her career-high ranking of No. 12, set in 2009 when she reached the French Open semifinals. Despite her relatively young age, Cibulkova has been in the pro ranks for a decade and has been remarkably durable, taking on very active schedules in recent years without injury. Such consistency has allowed Cibulkova to remain in the Top 35 of the year-end WTA rankings since 2008.
The Breakdown: Behind her run in Melbourne and a history of solid showings on hard courts – all three of her tour titles have come on the surface, including at the Emirates Airlines US Open Series event in Carlsbad, Calif. – Cibulkova is now very much a threat at the major events.
She certainly has a game suited to the North American hard-court circuit. Cibulkova packs a wallop into a diminutive package, maximizing power from a 5-foot-3 frame through an aggressive style of play and a strong lower body, often delivering powerful backhands that both produce winners and force errors when she’s at her best. She also plays with a lot of energy and her speed is a plus, allowing her to cover the court and reach and return shots better than players who are taller and longer.
There’s a short list of Top 25 players who have made quarterfinals-or-better appearances in their careers at the four Grand Slam tournaments – Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Li, Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Cibulkova. All besides Cibulkova have won Slams, and all save Li and Cibulkova have been the top-ranked player on the planet.