MIAMI, Fla.—Sweat seemed to pirouette from Dominika Cibulkova’s skin as she launched her 5’3” frame into the air again and again. This wasn’t a drill meant to take her service motion to new heights—the leaps were choreographed commercial climbs.
The world No. 25 spent part of her Tuesday afternoon inside Kikor Studios in Miami, posing for publicity photos for her racquet sponsor, Dunlop, in front of a green screen large enough to serve as a shower curtain for King Kong. Photographer Kiko Ricote provided encouraging instruction along the way.
“Dominika, your left hand is covering your face so try to move it a little bit to the side,” Ricote said, while an assistant sprayed Cibulkova’s face and arms with water to simulate sweat.
Even when she’s not the star subject of a photographer’s lens, Cibulkova has a habit of generating attention. She beat world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in Sydney this January and edged third-ranked Vera Zvonvareva in Indian Wells earlier this month. She also owns wins over former No. 1s Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Maria Sharapova.
The Slovak’s game recalls a young Amanda Coetzer in that she compensates for her stature with astute anticipation, fast feet, impeccable footwork—taking the short, precise preparation steps to put herself in position for each shot—and an ability to hit clean shots while taking the ball on the rise and playing off her opponent's pace.
"My strengths are that I have good movement and am consistent from the back of the court," Cibulkova said. "I like to play as a bit of a counter-puncher. I think I'm quicker than the tallest players and I try to use that to my advantage."
While the Bratislava-born blonde is not the most physically imposing player on the WTA, hearing her fast feet and seeing how effectively she times her shots can pose problems for opponents.
"She's difficult to play because she doesn't make a lot of mistakes," said Alizé Cornet, whose rivalry with Cibulkova dates back to their junior days.
“She’s a jack rabbit—she gets to everything,” said Sharapova, who lost to Cibulkova, 6-0, 6-2, in the 2009 French Open quarterfinals.
No matter how Cibulkova fares the rest of the season, expect to see more of her. She’s one of six players participating in the Sony Ericsson Xperia Hot Shots show, a web-based reality TV series that will follow six WTA players—Cibulkova, Cornet, Sorana Cirstea, Sabine Lisicki, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Heather Watson—as they travel the tour.
Cibulkova, who is active on both her Facebook page and official web site, conducted this Gear Talk Q&A following her photo shoot. It was a bit of a role reversal, as she spent time interviewing other players for Hot Shots during the Sony Ericsson Open player party in Miami.
TENNIS.com: Dominika, what was the first racquet you ever owned? How did you get it?
Dominika Cibulkova: My first racquet was a Volkl. My parents got it for me when I was a little girl. I remember it was very light. Boris Becker got involved with Volkl after he retired so it was a big brand where I was growing up, and I played with Volkl for years as a junior. Then when I became professional, I felt like I needed a racquet with a little more power so I switched to Dunlop and I’ve played with Dunlop ever since.
TENNIS.com: Your racquet is one quarter inch longer than the standard 27 inches—how do you customize your racquet?
Dominika Cibulkova: I only customize the color [laughs]. I like pink and bright colors so I have my name written in pink (near 2 o’clock on the hoop).
TENNIS.com: What string do you use?
Dominika Cibulkova: I use natural gut and Luxilon on the mains. The Luxilon gives me control and spin.
Dominika Cibulkova: At this time, no, I don’t do that. But I would like to help with that in the future and sometimes they do ask me for my opinion. I like to wear bright colors on court. When you’re dressed well you feel good on court.
TENNIS.com: What match made you believe that you could compete with the best players in the world?
Dominika Cibulkova: It was four years ago, I played Fed Cup against Jelena Jankovic, who was number three in the world at the time, I think. I was an outsider ranked about 75 then. I lost 9-7 in the third set, but I learned from that loss that I can play with top players. Those matches give you the extra confidence that you need because you see that you can compete with the best.
TENNIS.com: Is there anything tennis has taught you that you’ve been able to apply to your life?
Dominika Cibulkova: In tennis, you are alone on the court so you need confidence and a belief in yourself. In my private life, it’s something completely different than tennis. I guess one thing is that through tennis I maybe grew up a little faster because of the travel, meeting different people and having experiences that is part of a tennis player’s life.
TENNIS.com: What are your immediate and long-term goals?
Dominika Cibulkova: My goal is to be better than I was last year. I have a love for tennis and that helps me in my training. I worked hard in every practice and that has helped my fitness. I just want to keep improving every year. Really, that’s been my goal every year: to be better than I was the year before. This year, I beat Wozniacki when she was number one, in Sydney, so that helped my confidence for sure. My immediate goal is to be more consistent. To be able to play five and six good matches in a row, that’s an immediate goal for me and I think if I can do that I can improve.
TENNIS.com: You’re known for your quickness, your ability to take the ball early and your competitive spirit. What quality do you think has been a key to your success?
Dominika Cibulkova: That I have power. That I can hit the ball fast. I can take the pace and hit the ball hard. I grew up on clay, but I like all surfaces.
TENNIS.com: Lastly, how did you get involved with the new Hot Shots reality show and what part of this project are you most excited about?
Dominika Cibulkova: I think it’s going to be a great show and a great opportunity for us players to connect with our fans, and for people to get a chance to know us more, see what kind of personalities we have and what kind of people we are. They only picked six players, so I’m excited to be one of the six. I use Facebook and the internet a lot so it’s a great way to connect. I just hope people will vote for me and support me—I need the support [laughs].