BIRMINGHAM, England - This time last year, Dominika Cibulkova says she was living "a fairytale" in both her personal and professional lives.
"I was planning a wedding and everything was so nice; I was winning and playing unbelievable," recalls the Slovak, who won her sixth WTA Tour title in Eastbourne ahead of a run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Her brilliant grass form was just part of a spectacular 2016, which she capped off with victory at the WTA Finals in Singapore and finished at a career-high No.5 in the WTA Rankings.
This year, the 28-year-old hasn't been flying as high: she has put together a more modest 14-12 win-loss record in 2017 and is yet to reach a final. Nonetheless, she relishes having to overcome a different sort of test.
"This year is much more for me about handling the pressure and fighting through really hard situations," Cibulkova said ahead of her first match at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham. "It's another test, it's another experience and I accept the challenge."
This mentality was encapsulated last week at the Ricoh Open in 's-Hertogenbosch, where a first-round defeat in the singles event to Antonia Lottner was balanced by Cibulkova's first ever WTA Tour doubles title alongside Kirsten Flipkens.
"After my first-round loss it wasn't really easy, but I saw a little challenge in the doubles and I really wanted to do well," she reflected. It's given her a much-needed confidence boost too: as Cibulkova points out, "You are two on the court but you still have to do your job, play well and handle the tough situations."
The World No.6 will have another chance to rise to a challenge with her opening match in Birmingham against good friend and frequent practice partner Lucie Safarova, whom she has played eight times over the past decade.
"It's a tough first round," Cibulkova smiles. "But I'm here to accept the challenge."