Creature Vs Creature: Cibulkova's Clay Court Prowess Will Be Handy

Rajat JainSenior Analyst IJune 3, 2009

PARIS - JUNE 02:  Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia celebrates following her victory during the Women's Singles Quarter Final match against Maria Sharapova of Russia on day ten of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 2, 2009 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Please look at Rohini Iyer's article for Safina's side of the story.

Introduction: Dominika Cibulkova may be an unknown name to the larger part of the tennis world, but she has rapidly covered huge slides to become a top ranked WTA tennis player. Barely out of the teens a month ago, this 20 year old native from Slovakia replaced Daniela Hantuchova as the Slovak no. 1 tennis player in 2008 by achieving a career high ranking of 19. 

Her progress at Grand Slams has been spectacular as she has been consistently improving her record with every slam, with third round appearances at French Open and US Open ’08 and a fourth round in the opening slam of ’09.

The Bratislavian is enjoying a dream run at the French Open ’09, by entering her first Grand Slam Semi Final. She has blitzed her way through the draw by not dropping a single set in the last four matches, and flabbergasted the Russian, Maria Sharapova, by nearly double-bageling her (which she eventually won 6-0 6-2).

Her sternest test comes today as she faces the world no. 1 Dinara Safina – who herself is on a mission to ward off all criticism surrounding a non-slam winner World no. 1 – en route to her first Grand Slam Final.

Will Win If: The charming Slovak looks like a natural clay court player, and possesses an aggressive return game. She has mesmerized her opponents’ serves, tallying a total of 27 breaks in five matches so far, and its imperative that she maintains the same form.

She is extremely good in frustrating her opponent by patiently trading moon-balls for long rallies, and Safina’s occasional lapses of concentration could prove fatal if that is the case.

Will Lose If: She possesses a weak serve, and if she has even a marginally poor serve game by her standards, Safina would bludgeon past her and she can easily find herself 1-6 down in the first staring at an early finish.

Moreover, given her short stature, Safina, unlike Sharapova, can easily overpower her with her heavy groundstrokes who moves much better on this surface.

Intangibles: Cibulkova’s short stature enables her to be an extremely quick mover across the court. She has the ability to chase down far-fetched returns, whether moving horizontally across the baseline, or going back and forth to the net; while her high percentage style of play would help her stay in the match even if she is below par during parts of a set.

Her confidence, and experience of beating top players like Sharapova, Petrova and Venus Williams, would help her should the match goes the distance. She claims that she can beat any player when in her top form, and there is no shortage of evidence on this front.

Prediction: Safina has been on a roll in this tournament, and she will start out as the favorite, but she is also carrying huge expectations to win her first slam as the World No. 1. Looking at her initial few successes, it looks as if she is trying too hard to prove a point, which may just backfire in this important match. If Cibulkova serves reasonably well, there is every reason to look for an upset, and given the Parisian affinity for the underdogs, the crowd support will play a huge part in her endeavor. I expect a tight three setter with Cibulkova stunning the tennis world with yet another upset.