SINGAPORE - Dominika Cibulkova was riding high off the biggest title of her career on Monday, going through the media rounds to discuss her stunning run to the title at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. Less than 24 hours after the win, the new World No.5 was still on Cloud 9 after beating No.1 Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 to win the WTA Finals and finish off an incredible comeback season.
WTA Insider caught up with Cibulkova to reflect on her Singapore win and her evolution as a gritty on-court battler:
WTA Insider: What are you most proud of that you accomplished here?
Cibulkova: That after the two losses I had, I didn't get down on myself. They talk about me as a fighter and I proved that I am really a big fighter, because it wasn't easy to go out there after two losses and to play against Halep in the situation it was. So this is [what] I'm really proud about. And, of course, the way I played in the final - it was really high-level tennis.
WTA Insider: Was the final your best match all week?
Cibulkova: I think I also played really well against Halep, but I think against Angie was the best match I played the whole week.
WTA Insider: You told reporters after your match that you believe in yourself now. Why? Why didn't you believe in yourself before?
Cibulkova: Because I was never that kind of player that came on tour and was winning tournaments. I always needed, you know, proof. I needed to beat a Top 20 player, a Top 10 player - I was taking small steps to get where I am now. And I always thought that winning a Grand Slam was something unreal, it's impossible. But by winning this, I want to achieve another dream, and that's winning a Grand Slam.
WTA Insider: Did it mean more to win yesterday than to reach the Australian Open final a couple of years ago?
Cibulkova: Oh yes. To play finals is an amazing feeling. But to win the whole thing, you cannot compare these two things.
WTA Insider: You've had good results everywhere. Which major do you think you have the best chance of making a charge?
Cibulkova: We'll see. I dunno, we'll see. As you said, I can play on all the surfaces. [I'm most comfortable at] Roland Garros, or maybe Australian Open, too. But hard court and clay court for me is the top. The grass it's like for one tournament I made the quarterfinals, and that's amazing. This year is the breaking year in my career, if you know what I mean. Before every tournament you feel your form, how you feel the court and everything has to come together to win such a big event.
WTA Insider: Typically, a player of your size would rely on speed and defense to win matches. Obviously you're an offensive-minded player. Has anyone ever tried to convince you to play with more feel, rather than your power game?
Cibulkova: No, it was actually it was the other way around. When I was little, or younger, it was always I was just a defensive player; I was just running to the fence and putting the balls back. I think I had a lot of coaches in my career and every single coach taught me something different that now I use now. I remember it was maybe five or six years ago, I had a coach who pushed me to play really aggressive. And since then I've known this is the way I'm going to play. This coach I'm with right now, we've been together more than three years and I'd say he's the best coach I ever had in my career.
WTA Insider: How hard was it to buy into this aggressive strategy?
Cibulkova: It was really hard, but it was a long process. You know, it was maybe 10 years or longer, and inside of me was never a killer on the court, I was never the one that was winning. Now I'm the one that's going to kill you on the court. This is something I had to learn and this is something that put me in the Top 5. I learned this killer instinct and I just went for it, because in the important moments before I was always afraid to go for my shots, or I wanted the opponent to make a mistake. And this is not how champions play.
WTA Insider: Do you believe that the big titles nowadays go to the big-hitters?
Cibulkova: Yes, of course I believe that. I mean, Aga Radwanska, she's a defensive player and she also won WTA Finals, but I see it this way: if a big-hitting girl is playing her best tennis, no one can do anything. You see me playing great yesterday and I didn't let Angie into the match.
WTA Insider: What prompted you to hire a mental coach?
Cibulkova: My coach. He convince me. He said, 'You know, Dominika, it's not only about how many hours you spend on the court but for you the most important thing is how many hours you spend thinking about tennis off the court,' Because I always thought that I was working more than 100% on the court, and then it's over for me. But he told me that I needed my head to be there and to be strong. It wasn't easy convincing me, because sometimes I can be stubborn, but after a while I really started to believe in it and now it's a part of me and I can't imagine to play tennis without this thing.
WTA Insider: Do you talk to your mental coach just about what's going through your mind during those tight moments?
Cibulkova: Yes, exactly, and for me the most important thing is to hold my emotions together, because I'm really emotional on the court. So when I get angry or miss something, I cannot live in the past. This is the biggest change. I handle these situations now. Even this week, you could see against Halep, I survived so many tight moments. I think in the past I couldn't handle a match like this, even yesterday after the two match points I missed?
WTA Insider: You smiled after you missed those first three match points?
Cibulkova: This is something we also tried to work on. I was so frustrated; this was like my worst moment on the court, I couldn't describe how bad I felt on the court in that moment when I missed the forehand. This isn't happening! I didn't miss a forehand like that in the whole match. But I knew I had to hold it together, I had to forget, leave it in the past and think about what I had to do next.
WTA Insider: I assume the thing you want to do next is to relax. You're going on vacation next. So you're going to just chill out?
Cibulkova: You can ask my husband. I'm the laziest person in the world. Really, I just can do nothing. I have my book and I'm just lying there in the shade saying, 'This is good, this is good!' I think because I spend so much time working that when I'm off, it's nothing.