DUBAI, UAE - Dominika Cibulkova ended 2018 on a high, reaching back-to-back Grand Slam second weeks at Wimbledon and the US Open, but found herself in unfamiliar territory to start the new year, going winless in Australia for the first time in over a decade.
“From Wimbledon, I had such great results, so that really kick-started me and kept me motivated,” the former World No.4 said after her first round at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“Before Australia, I felt so good in training, and was really frustrated after those two first round losses. I’m getting there and hopefully I’ll achieve something I’m wishing for.”
On top of two tough losses to Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai at the Sydney Internation and Australian Open, Cibulkova got sick in St. Petersburg, forcing her out of the Premier event and the ensuing Fed Cup weekend.
“I missed matches, so in an ideal situation, how I felt after how sick I was, I wouldn’t have come here. But I had a few trainings and hoped for matches, which is the most important thing.”
A part-time resident in Dubai, Cibulkova proved you can, indeed, go home again, shaking off a shocking first set to survive Lara Arruabarrena, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.
“Finally, it’s my first win of 2019,” she said with a sigh. “Maybe I had that a little bit in my head during the first set, so it got tricky. She took risks on some points, so I just got off track.
“Sometimes it’s like this. You need confidence to win matches and get where you want to be. Even if you feel good in practice, it doesn’t always come out in a match.”
Up 5-1 and 40-0 in the first set, the former Australian Open finalist lost six straight games, only to take an identical lead in the second.
“I’m happy I stayed there, stayed positive, and tried to play my game. I knew that once I got on the right track, I could win the match because I started so well.”
The 29-year-old will have no time to celebrate the milestone, with former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova looming on Tuesday; their last meeting came in the Middle East, with Pliskova narrowly surviving the Slovak at the Qatar Total Open in 2017.
“It’s going to be really tough. She’s a favorite, so I just want to go out there, give my best, and see what I’m capable of in this situation. This is my only preparation before Indian Wells and Miami, so this is how I want to take it.”
Not quite the local favorite, Cibulkova will nonetheless hope for some enthusiastic crowd support to help her earn an upset over the three-time WTA Ace Leader.
“I had my last two pre-seasons in Dubai, so I got to know the city more. I have some friends here, so I’m starting to like it!”