In an era where power and size dominate women’s tennis, Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova struck a blow for smaller players by winning the WTA Finals 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday against Angelique Kerber.
Standing just 1.60 metres (five feet, three inches) tall, Cibulkova is a throwback to an age when women’s tennis was ruled by smaller players who relied entirely on their foot speed and court craft to win.
Told she was too small to make it as a professional, Cibulkova ignored the naysayers and went about chasing her dreams with extra determination to prove the doubters wrong.
“When I was younger, it was something that motivated me to go forward. A lot of people in the club and around me, they were like, ‘(you’re) too small to play tennis’... but they underestimated me,” Cibulkova told reporters after winning the WTA’s year-ending championship, a prestigious tournament restricted to the top eight players in the world.
“This is something I was dealing with since I started to play tennis. I think I was always brave with my height. I was just maybe stubborn and brave. I really wanted to play tennis. Nobody could tell me different.
“I’m glad I can be a motivation so people don’t see just the big girls winning the big tournaments, but also that somebody like me has a chance to be on the biggest stage in the world.”
Cibulkova’s surprise victory was also a win for perseverance. Although she made the Australian Open final in 2014, she has been beset with problems ever since.
Ranked as low as 66th in the world in February after struggling with injuries in 2015, Cibulkova only just snuck into the WTA Finals when she won this month’s Linz Open in Austria, earning this season’s WTA Comeback Player of the Year award.
She was facing an early exit when she lost her first two round-robin matches in Singapore but suddenly turned things around, winning her third match and advancing to the semi-finals, where she came from behind to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova before going on to defeat Kerber to capture the biggest title of her career and rise to fifth in the world.
“When you struggle and you come back and all your hard work pays off, that’s why I play tennis and why I love sport,” she said.
“It’s not like you’re always winning. You’re up and down, up and down. That’s why, when you do well, you appreciate it much more.
“This year has been the longest season in my career. But I don’t complain, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
Cibulkova was presented with the Billie Jean King trophy and a cheque for US$2.05 million, the biggest payday of her life, for her Singapore win and has already started working out how she and her husband are going to spend their windfall.
“The first treat I am going to give myself is a holiday.” she said. “We’re going to the Maldives, just to enjoy it and relax.”