- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Dominika Cibulkova didn’t speak to her parents back in Slovakia before the biggest tennis match of her life. In fact, she hadn’t spoken to them for nearly two weeks.

“We were superstitious,” she said in her post-match news conference, beaming despite losing the women’s final to Li Na 7-6 (3), 6-0 at the Australian Open on Saturday. “I won my first round and I didn’t call them.” Instead, she sent a text.

Her mother finally called her after the match, too nervous to watch. “She always watches the match after when they show it again,” Cibulkova explained.

She may have been the heavy underdog in the final, the pocket-sized baseliner who had never been to a Grand Slam final going up against the 2011 French Open champion and two-time Australian Open finalist from China.

But from the moment she walked out on court at Rod Laver Arena, trying hard to contain her smile as the crowd cheered, she looked as though she was thoroughly enjoying the moment.

In fact, for much of the tight first set, she appeared to be the more relaxed player on the court, running up and down in place before serves, pumping her fists, slapping her thigh to motivate herself.

The No. 20-seeded Cibulkova, the shortest woman in the top 50 at 1.61 meters (5-foot-3), had already played the spoiler several times before in the tournament, beating No. 3-seeded Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, No. 11 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals and then No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals.

So she felt she had nothing to lose in the final against the No. 4 seed.

“I was walking on court and I knew she will be the one under more pressure because she was the one that was supposed to win,” Cibulkova said. “I’m just proud with the way I handle it. You know, I just went on the court. I wanted to play my best tennis.”

First-time finalists aren’t always so composed. Natasha Zvereva famously lost to Steffi Graf 6-0, 6-0 in just 32 minutes at the 1988 French Open. Sabine Lisicki was so overwhelmed against Marion Bartoli in the Wimbledon final last year, she dissolved in tears after the match.

But not Cibulkova. She said she learned from reaching her first major semifinal at the French Open five years ago. She was 19 at the time and was just happy to be there, so she didn’t put up much fight in the match.

Now she is setting bigger goals for herself - winning a Grand Slam herself someday.

“Now I know that it’s just another match, you know, in your life. That how you have to take it,” she said.

“I’m 24 years old and already play in Grand Slam finals. I feel like my game is there to challenge the biggest names, you know, to beat them, so why not?”

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