MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 18: Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia signs her autograph at the MLC Autograph Island during day 6 of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Joel Drucker: Happy Birthday, Dominika Cibulkova

Pro tennis players can age so rapidly. At first, the player is fresh, primed to take in the sights and sounds of life on the tour. Next come experience and maturity. But then, alas, rapidly there emerges a world-weary quality. Boris Becker once said tennis years were like dog years. He likely wasn’t referring to the puppy phase. Five years into a pro career, a tennis player can often seem quite jaded; if not bored, certainly lacking the passion of that ten-year-old who once hit hundreds of balls against a backboard and imagined what it would be liked to play Wimbledon.

Dominika Cibulkova turns 28 today. But to watch her play is to see someone stubbornly refuse to age. In 2016, Cibulkova won a tour-leading four WTA singles titles, including the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. Earlier this year, Cibulkova reached a career-high ranking of number four in the world.

But this birthday greeting is scarcely focused on the quantitative. What Cibulkova brings most of all is eagerness, a relentless, pit bull-like tenacity and engagement. In certain ways, she is akin to that other longstanding grinder, David Ferrer.

It’s common to say of these two that they make the most of their games. I suppose, but perhaps there’s another way to look at it. Who knows truly how much any player possesses? But then, consider the opposite – the jaded player who we sense has more to offer, but for various reasons, on this day, at this moment, can scarcely be bothered to bring it more. For a time, this has been the challenge when watching the likes of Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic (shudder to think what a contrast this is to their Aussie ancestors). Prior versions include Marat Safin.

But still, how can we ever know the complete extent of any player’s talent? What we do know is that Cibulkova sure brings a lot. No one who ever watches her play will ever feel short-changed. No doubt today, she will heartily blow out every last candle.

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