'Pocket rocket' aims for maiden Grand Slam
MELBOURNE - She's known as the "pocket rocket" and the "energizer bunny" and diminutive Dominikia Cibulkova is aiming to hustle and bustle her way to a first Grand Slam title on Saturday.
The Slovak, at five feet three inches (1.61m), is the smallest player in the top 50 and if she beats China's Li Na in the Australian Open final she will become the shortest ever Grand Slam champion.
Clearly height matters little in tennis, with Cibulkova dismantling the game of statuesque Russian Maria Sharapova, who is almost a foot taller, en route to the decider at Melbourne Park.
"It's not about how tall you are. Even if you are tall, it doesn't mean that you are 100 percent going to make it," said Cibulkova, who was inspired by former world number three Amanda Coetzer, another shortie, when growing up.
"It's just you have to really want something and just believe in it. There is nothing more important than this."
Cibulkova is the tournament surprise package, using her power off the ground and relentless running to muscle through the draw where she has also beaten fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 11th seed Simona Halep.
It is a big turnaround from last year, when she won only four matches at the four Grand Slams. So far in Melbourne she has won six, dropping just one set along the way.
The drive to the final is a big achievement for a player with just three titles to her name and a career-high ranking of 12 four-and-a-half years ago.
The 24-year-old has been playing tennis since she was seven, introduced to the game by parents Milan and Katarina in their home town Bratislava.
She turned professional in 2004, aged 15, earning $133 in her first tournament in Prague. A win on Saturday will net her a cool $2.65 million.
Her breakthrough year was 2008, when she made her first two WTA singles finals and cracked the top 20 for the first time.
But it wasn't until 2011 that she got on the winners' podium, taking the title in Moscow and following it up with another one in Carlsbad in 2012 and then Stanford last year.
While she has reached the last eight at all of the Grand Slams, including the semi-finals at the 2009 French Open, Cibulkova has had to wait until now to go one step further.
Now coached by Slovak Fed Cup captain Matej Liptak, she is bidding to become her country's first Grand Slam champion and plans to use her ceaseless energy to beat the experienced Li.
"It's in me. I was born with it. It's my gift," she said of her energy levels. "I've had it since I was a little kid. When I play my best tennis, that's where you can see like the power and the fight.
"You know, you have to have something extra if you want to be one of the best tennis players and you are not the tallest. This is what is my extra."
Cibulkova also has good movement and is consistent from the back of the court.
"I like to play as a bit of a counter-puncher. I think I'm quicker than the tallest players and I try to use that to my advantage."
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