Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia lost to Li Na of China in the final of the Australian Open in Melbourne on Saturday. - EPA
MELBOURNE (AFP): Dominika Cibulkova said Saturday the experience of playing a Grand Slam final would stand her in good stead and had given her confidence she can become Slovakia's first major champion.
The diminutive Cibulkova, seeded 20, battled hard in the first set against China's world number four Li Na in the Australian Open final, but she fell to pieces in the second, crashing 7-6 (7-3), 6-0.
It was the 24-year-old's first major final, with her previous best performance being the 2009 French Open semi-finals. And she said she had learned some valuable lessons.
"I learned a lot. Of course it will be great to win my first final of a Grand Slam, but I think it takes time, you know. It's not that easy," she said.
"Now I know that it's just another match in your life. That's how you have to take it.
"When I played my first semi-finals of a Grand Slam I just went on the court. I was 19 years old. I was just like happy I'm already there and I was not fighting for the final.
"Now I know how it is to play the final."
Cibulkova accounted for third seed Maria Sharapova, fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 11th seed Simona Halep on her way to the final, a run that has lifted her confidence immensely.
Asked if she could now win one of the majors, she replied: "Yes, yes, I feel that way.
"I'm just 24 and already played in a Grand Slam final. I feel like my game is there to challenge the biggest names, you know, to beat them, so why not?"
Known as the "pocket rocket" and the "energizer bunny", Cibulkova, at five feet three inches (1.61m) is the smallest player in the top 50.
But it been no hindrance as she used her power off the ground and relentless running to muscle through the draw.
Her performance was a big turnaround from last year, when she won only four matches at the four Grand Slams.
"It was my first Grand Slam final and I'm just proud with the way I handled it," she said.
"I just went on the court, I wanted to play my best tennis. It wasn't easy against her because she was playing extremely well.
"So I'm quite happy."
Now coached by Slovak Fed Cup captain Matej Liptak, Cibulkova heads back to Slovakia as the first player from her country to make a Grand Slam final, a feat she is proud of.
"I'm really looking forward to go back home," she said. "In Slovakia, as I said, it's huge thing, it's really big. I am happy I represent my country so well."
Despite her defeat, Cibulkova will move up to 13 in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday.
The superstitious Slovak said she didn't talk to her parents for the entire tournament, until just after her feat.
"I didn't speak to my Mom the whole two weeks and to my Dad because we are superstitious. I won my first round and I didn't call them. I just text message," she said.
"We were text-messaging the whole two weeks. Now I was on the bike (warming down) so she called me... she said she's really proud and she asked me how was the match."
Asked how she would celebrate reaching the final, she said: "I will party some."