Cibulkova broadens her mind on journey to the top
By Melanie Burton
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - World number six Dominika Cibulkova took some time to be convinced of the value of using a sports psychologist but having reaped the benefits, the Slovakian believes every top player should give it a go.
Riding high from her career zenith when she won the WTA Finals at the first attempt in October, the 27-year-old says the work she has put in off the court with her Czech mind coach has made all the difference.
"Still maybe three years ago, I thought if I give hundred percent on the court then off the court it's my time off and I don't need to think about tennis," she told reporters after reaching the third round at the Australian Open.
"But now I know, my coach, said 'Dominika, this is really important for you because your game is good but you need your head to be more stable, more strong.'"
"In the beginning, I didn't believe it was something that would really help me achieve what I want. But then I started to work with him and I see the results, then I started to believe."
Cibulkova next faces Russian 30th seed Ekaterina Marakova and is on course for a potential quarter-final meeting against American great Serena Williams as she bids to reach the final for a second time after losing to Li Na in 2014.
Her experience in vanquishing world number one Angelique Kerber in Singapore to win the season-ending championships means she would not take the same approach to a second bid for her maiden grand slam title in Melbourne, she said.
"It just put me in a different situation," she said. "Even when I was top 10, 15 or 20... I couldn't imagine how tough it was (at the top of the game) and how everybody is expecting now you will just be winning and doing so well.
"Now I am in a different position am trying to work even more to be stronger. That why I approached the final in Singapore a different way. I approached it in a way where I really believed myself I can win the final."
Cibulkova started working with her sports psychologist in February 2015, a month before she underwent an operation on her left Achilles.
Britain's Johanna Konta, a possible fourth round opponent in Melbourne, and Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro have also said they used mind coaches to put them through their mental paces. Cibulkova believes the trio are not alone.
"I believe the best players, they work with a mental coach, they just don't talk about it. I think they just want to keep it to themselves," she said.
"Who would want to say I'm working on this extra and it could help you too?"
Cibulkova is now convinced of the importance of the psychological side of the game and said it was easy to identify those who were most effective at dealing with the pressure.
"The toughest... they are usually the highest on the rankings because the better you are, the bigger pressure you have," she said.
(Editing by John O'Brien)