x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Diminutive Cibulkova says she is ready for the big task ahead

She is known as the “pocket rocket” and the “Energizer bunny”, and the diminutive Dominika Cibulkova is aiming to hustle and bustle her way to a first grand slam title on Saturday.

Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova says she will try to use her boundless energy to wear down Li Na in the women's final of the Australian Open. William West / AFP
Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova says she will try to use her boundless energy to wear down Li Na in the women's final of the Australian Open. William West / AFP

MELBOURNE // She is known as the “pocket rocket” and the “Energizer bunny”, and the diminutive Dominika Cibulkova is aiming to hustle and bustle her way to a first grand slam title on Saturday.

The Slovak, at 5ft 3ins (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 player to win a grand slam event, eclipsing the 5ft 4ins (1.64m) Billie Jean King.

Most elite women’s players are taller than the average, but height clearly has not mattered much in this tournament. Cibulkova dismantled the 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,” said Cibulkova, who in her younger days was inspired by the former world No 3 Amanda Coetzer, who was 5ft 2ins. “Even if you are tall, it doesn’t mean that you are 100 per cent going to make it. 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 the 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, when she was 20.

Now 24, Cibulkova has been playing tennis since she was seven, introduced to the game by her parents in Bratislava.

She turned professional in 2004, at 15, earning US$133 (Dh489) in her first tournament, in Prague.

A win today would bring $2.65 million.

She 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. “I’ve had it since I was a little kid. When I play my best tennis, that’s where you can see 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.”

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