At 20, Dominika Cibulkova reached her first Grand Slam semifinal earlier this month in Paris, her favorite European city. In a recent interview with SI.com, Cibulkova, who is ranked No. 14 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, discussed her impressive victory against Maria Sharapova, the VIP treatment on the way home and why any grass court remains her Waterloo.
SI.com: In your French Open quarterfinal win, you were up 6-0, 5-0 and 40-40 against Maria Sharapova. Did you think you could double-bagel her?
Cibulkova: Up until that point, I did not think about what was happening and was just playing point after point. When I had the match point to beat her 6-0, 6-0, I realized I was one ball away from beating Sharapova and going to my first semifinal. I started thinking too much and dropped two games. The toughest thing is that she is fighting for everything. Even though I won the first set, I knew I had to fight and not let her back into the game. It was really tough to keep your concentration so high. Then I regained focus and finished it off.
SI.com: How did life change as a semifinalist?
Cibulkova: When I was leaving from the Paris airport, I got in line and waited as usual for the security check, but a security guard came over to me and said, "You don't have to wait here." He took me ahead, and I was just just shocked. I could get used to that.
SI.com: Why do grass courts give you so much trouble?
Cibulkova: To tell you the truth, the grass is not really my favorite surface because I have no chance to practice on grass courts. We don't have even one grass court in Slovakia. Last year, I lost [in the first round] to a girl [Zheng Jie] who played in the Wimbledon semis. Thank God there are only two or three tournaments on grass. The week before Wimbledon is my yearly practice.
SI.com: What was the tennis scene like when you were growing up in Slovakia?
Cibulkova: My mother is a lawyer for the government, and my father travels with me now. Neither of them played tennis when younger. I started when I was 8 during the summer holidays. I had liked swimming and skiing. In the summer, I had nothing to do and one of our friends was doing tennis camps for children. They asked if I wanted to try, and I did. I was 15 when I turned pro. I found the rise to be quick, and I was playing against idols like Svetlana Kuznetsova when I first came on tour. I was intimidated but realized I can play with them, too. To do this day, Svetlana is the toughest player for me to face on tour.
SI.com: As a fan of Kim Clijsters, what do you make of her return after a two-year retirement?
Cibulkova: I was very surprised that she was coming back. I saw her in an exhibition match here in Den Bosch [the Netherlands]. I did not expect her to play so well after having the baby. You cannot even see that she did not play for two years. I think she will be very tough opponent again. When I got on the tour as a young, new player, I liked how she talked to me and she was not acting like a big star.