Marisue Jacutin: Cibulkova proves height is not might in world tennis
Former Philippine Girls Junior and Women’s No. 1 Marisue Jacutin (de Mariona) believes Filipina tennisters can emulate Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia and make it big in the world tennis stage.
“She plays BIG for a short gal!” said the Kagay-anon born and raised player in an email message from San Francisco, California where she is now based. “What an amazing Ausop run dominating against her giant competitors – I think Ferrer and Cibulkova are great example for our Asian stature – there’s endless possibilities with hard work, strong quick legs and impeccable anticipation.”
One of the shortest players in women’s tennis at 5’3”, the pint sized Cibulkova (nicknamed “The Pocket Rocket”) reached her first-ever grand slam finals at the recently concluded Australian Open tennis championships where she was seeded No. 20, defeating much taller and powerful opponents, notably four top 20 players including third seed and WTA No. 5 Maria Sharapova who stands 6’2” and WTA No. 5 Agnieska Radwanska (5’8”) eventually losing in the finals to No. 4 seed Li Na of China.
“I’d like to stress the type of game Cibulkova’s got – aggressive, she takes the ball early, and she’s quick. All these qualities can be attained with proper training. She spends a lot of time working on legs. Her explosive movement is impressive. When you’re quick you get in position better -she’s able to dictate shots being early,” the former PH No. 1 said.
“I also remember Amanda Coetzer who attained a high WTA ranking – she was also short 5’2”- she played with high margin/more of a retriever- and it worked during her time because women didn’t hit with a lot of power. Nowadays that type of game will not survive because power now dominates the women’s tour.” As a result of her many upset wins and her small size, Coetzer earned the nickname “The Little Assassin.”
Jacutin (de Mariona) said Cibulkova should inspire shorter Filipina tennis players to believe in themselves and not put too much stock on their height when facing taller, powerful opponents especially in world tennis.
“Yes! We can do as much damage,” she said. “Like her – I have been told so many times about my ‘height disadvantage’ but I thought I have a remarkable record considering that. I hope Asians will soon realize that it’s not about the height but how we ‘Believe’.”
Her Wikipedia profile describes Cibulkova as having “tremendous court coverage and powerful groundstrokes that she has used to great effect at Melbourne Park.”
“Her high-energy, aggressive, powerful style was used to great effect in the fourth round against world no. 3 Maria Sharapova, who she frustrated with her retrieving ability before over-running the Russian with powerful groundstrokes. In the semi-finals, she also demolished fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.
Even a shade shorter than Cibulkova at 5’2”, Marisue believes even shorter players have an inherent advantage when play starts in the courts.
“Like Cibulkova- I also use a bigger size head racquet (100 sq in. bigger head) – it generally helps our reach and has a better sweet spot for those running shots. Because of the type of game we have – I take the ball early; it gives opponents little time to get back in the center and in position.”
Marisue was the former Philippine Girls Junior and Women’s No. 1 player, representing the country in tournaments abroad like the Federation Cup, World Youth Cup, Wimbledon, Canadian Open, Japan Open, SEA Games and even making it to the main draw of the Australian Open Juniors. She attained her highest ITF ranking at #47 for singles and #33 in doubles. In 2011, she was chosen the USTA’s Northern California Players of the Year for Mixed Open Doubles with her partner Pablo Schurig.
Although probably the shortest player in the Bay Area these days, she said she gets a kick out of proving taller players wrong by giving them a game bigger than her height.
“This is probably why I still enjoy playing: I like the ‘surprise’ I get from opponents – I get a kick out of it every time!”
Now 35 and mother of two, Javier, 9 and Isabella, 6 by hubby Rodrigo, Marisue enjoys the fact she can still play at a high level in an open tournament and dominate against much bigger opponents.
“I’ve always admired Filipinos perseverance – they have to know that there’s a place for them on that big stage – Grand Slam experience. Sure with our size we have to work a little harder, most of our opponents will take a step while we need three to get in position. But we can do it with proper training and mentality. We need to educate our coaches about encouraging players to stand tall and play big. Short players have a huge advantage also – they get low on the court, generally quicker n great speed. I just really want to encourage Filipinos that they can be great in this sport.”