STANFORD, CALIF. — Marion Bartoli rece
ived a free pass to the Bank of the West Classic final on Saturday when Domonika Cibulkova pulled out with a left abdominal strain. The withdrawal is an especially unfortunate one for the wildcard entrant, who has been benefiting from a retooled game that has seen her reach quarterfinals or better at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Brisbane, Sydney, Indian Wells, Paris, Madrid and Wimbledon, where she upset Caroline Wozniacki — her second career win over a reigning world No. 1.
The 5-foot-3, 120-pound Slovakian slugger, who’s still seeking her first career title, last year connected with Croat Zeljko Krajan, the coach who took Dinara Safina to No. 1. Since then, the 22-year-old has gone from a defensive-minded player to more of an aggressive attacker. Cibulkova admits the transformation presented many challenges, chiefly growing accustomed to the unforced errors that come with the territory.
“It was not easy for me,” she confided. “But it seems like it’s showing now on the court. In the beginning, I had a problem with this, that I have many more unforced errors. But this is the way I play now. If I try to play safe, it just doesn’t work. If I play aggressive and do what I have to do, it’s working. It’s the way I know how to play tennis.”
“You need to have the ability to change that,” Cibulkova continued. “Some players can’t be so aggressive because they don’t have a weapon. If you don’t have a big forehand, big backhand or big serve, you cannot be a really aggressive player. My coach saw this in me and told me what to do. We changed it a little bit. It took a little bit of time, but then I won a few matches and started to believe in it. That’s the main reason why it’s gone so well — I believe in what we do.”
Cibulkova, who also missed Rome and Brussels with abdominal issues, took five days off after her Wimbledon run before prepping for the American hard-court season in Slovenia. She arrived at Stanford early, and with a newfound sense of confidence she had hoped she could do some damage in the draw. She had clearly taken a leap of faith by putting her trust in Krajan and his vision, but it was his belief in her abilities that won her over in the end. When he first contacted her at Roland Garros in 2010, he told her she had the stuff to “be a top 10 player or better.”
“At that time, I wasn’t feeling well,” she observed. “I didn’t have a coach. I was fighting myself, not playing so well. I was a little bit lost at times. I’m really happy that I believed him 100 percent and it paid off. It’s really important to have a good coach, a coach who understands you. You have to get close as a team because I give him all my belief.”
Bartoli, who awaits the winner of the Serena Williams vs. Sabine Lisicki matchup, has now reached four finals on the year, finishing as a runner-up in Indian Wells and Strasbourg before winning her sixth career title in Eastbourne. The Frenchwoman sits at a career-high No. 9, but will climb no higher next week, even if she wins the Stanford title.
“It was bothering me the whole week, kind of on and off,” said Cibulkova of her injury. ” I had a similar problem about two or three months ago when I was playing in Madrid and it almost forced me to retire in the quarterfinals. So I have a problem with my abdominal. Maybe I rushed to heal it before it’s time to play again. It can be a strain or could be something more. So you never know how it goes about feeling. I hope one week of rest is going to be enough and I will not need more.”