French Open 2014: Dominika Cibulkova not afraid of getting dirty to stand tall for Paris dream

 

Tennis Correspondent

Mud, mud, glorious mud. There is nothing quite like it for cooling the blood – especially after a gruelling tennis season. Dominika Cibulkova, the latest woman to reach a singles Grand Slam final, swears by it.

Cibulkova, who was runner-up to Li Na at the Australian Open in January, spent her childhood in the Slovakian spa town of Piestany and returns there every autumn to spend a week wallowing in the healing sulphuric mud that attracts visitors from around the world.

“I always go there in October and November when I have some time off,” Cibulkova said. “They have this special water. It looks like a swimming pool but it smells like eggs. It’s not a nice smell. It’s very hot. You have this mud on the bottom. Then you walk in it and you put it on your body. It’s good for the muscles, the bones, the whole body.

“It’s mostly older people who go there. I am always the youngest person there. You can also drink the water but it doesn’t taste good. I don’t drink it. I don’t like it.”

Cibulkova, the world No 10, is not the only evidence within tennis of Piestany’s restorative powers. The town of just 30,000 inhabitants has also produced Marian Vajda, who is Novak Djokovic’s long-time coach, Branislav Stankovic, a former top 100 player, Lukas Lacko, the current world No 88, and Filip Horansky, a recent world junior No 3.

There are times when it seems that you need to be 6ft tall and built like a weightlifter to succeed in the modern game, but 25-year-old’s success bucks the trend. Whether or not it has anything to do with Piestany’s reinvigorating mud, she has struck a blow this year for those female players who are not built like Amazons. Cibulkova stands only 5ft 3in tall and weighs just 8st 9lb, but the ball gets a fearful pounding from her Dunlop Biomimetic M4.0 racket.

“When I was a child I was always the smallest one – just like I am now,” Cibulkova said. “When I started to play, all the coaches said it didn’t make sense for me to try to play tennis because I was too small. They said I would never make it. But this was something that motivated me. I really wanted to make it.

“I think I wanted it more than most other players. I knew I had to do something extra to be as good as the tall girls. I think you can see that on the court with all my energy. I really had to practise very hard for it.

“I’ve always loved playing tennis. When I was 12 my parents decided that I should try to do it seriously. My father started to travel with me and as a family we tried to make it work. I got to No 3 in the world in juniors and won some big tournaments, though I never got to a Grand Slam junior final.”

Cibulkova made a big impact in her early days as a professional, breaking into the world’s top 20 when she was just 19 and reaching the French Open semi-finals the following year, 2009. “I was new on the tour, playing with nothing to lose, and nobody knew about me,” she said. “After that other players paid more attention to me and they knew how I played. I had to improve so many things. I changed some shots. Now I feel a much more mature person and player.”

Cibulkova has won a tournament on the Women’s Tennis Association tour every year since 2011 and enjoyed her finest moment at the Australian Open. She beat Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep en route to her first Grand Slam final before losing to Li.

“It was the best I’ve played in terms of playing well for so many matches in a row,” she said. “Before, I could play a good match and the next day it wasn’t the same. It was the consistency that made the difference. I had been working on some mental things with my coach. We worked hard on that in practice, trying to make me more stable and to be able to be focused on the whole match.”

Although she has slipped up in her last two tournaments, losing first time out in both Madrid and Rome, Cibulkova has been proving during the spring that her success at the Australian Open was no flash in the pan. Since Melbourne she has won the title in Acapulco, finished runner-up in Kuala Lumpur and reached the semi-finals and quarter-finals in Miami and Indian Wells respectively. She has already played 35 matches this year, which is nine more than Serena Williams and four more than Li.

Having reached one quarter-final at Wimbledon in 2011 Cibulkova believes she can be successful on grass, though she admitted that clay and hard courts were her preferred surfaces. And the title she would like to win the most? “Roland Garros,” she said. “I love Paris and it’s my favourite tournament.”

Dominika Cibulkova plays with the Dunlop Biomimetic M4.0 racket, available for £159.99. To view the full Dunlop Tennis range including rackets, equipment and apparel, visit Sportsdirect.com

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