Petite power on the WTA Tour


Small players are doing big things on the WTA Tour. No. 2 Simona Halep is 5-foot-6 and reached the French Open final this year; 5-3 Dominika Cibulkova got to the Australian Open final and is ranked No. 13. The members of the top-ranked doubles team, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, each stand at 5-4, with Errani also getting as high as No. 5 and Vinci No. 11 in the singles rankings. At Indian Wells in early March, 5-2 Lauren Davis defeated an injured 6-foot Victoria Azarenka, and 5-6 Camila Giorgi ousted 6-1 Maria Sharapova. Sharapova also lost to 5-4 Carla Suarez Navarro, a French Open quarterfinalist, in Montreal earlier this month.

They are among 12 players in the top 50 who are 5-6 or shorter, helping show that size does not have to matter on a tour where most of the competitors are at least 5-8 and several are taller than 6-foot.

Traditionally, shorter players have kept up with their taller counterparts with speed and consistency -- the trademarks of the petite. But the recent surge of smaller players is also marked by something else. They may lack height, but they do not lack power.

Halep, 23, credits her entry into the top ranks to playing more aggressively, positioning her small but powerful frame on top of the baseline and taking the ball on the rise to "open up the court very well, open up the angles."

Despite being one of the most diminutive, Cibulkova is known for packing a punch. The "pocket rocket" from Slovakia doesn't hold back, unleashing on the first ball she can.

"I go for my shots and I just play very aggressive and most of the time I feel like I push the other players. So yeah, I'm small, but I have a lot of power," she told "The way I hit the shots, they go pretty flat and fast from my racket."

Their lack of height does show when serving, for neither Halep nor Cibulkova has a strong delivery, but both possess the foot speed taller players typically lack.

Cibulkova has defied those who told her to play a game more suited to her size.

"Of course they did before, when I was small and younger and everything, but it was a style of game that I really liked and it became part of me," Cibulkova said. "It's challenging for me to beat the tall players and the best players in the world, and yeah, that's something I have inside of me."

Even players who do not have power games such as Errani and former 5-5 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone possess spin-heavy strokes that require a lot of strength, and Suarez Navarro and Vinci are among the few WTA players to play with one-handed backhands.

Seeing them has inspired others. Japan's Kurumi Nara is 5-1 and ranked No. 32, a career high.

"Sometimes, [I ask myself], 'Why I'm short?' " she said to, but the 23-year-old now is changing her ideas about what her game should be.

"I'm very [often] watching Cibulkova, Halep," she said. "I try to hit hard now, because little bit my shot is not hard now.

"Yes, I every day watching top player, like Halep. They play like more heavy ball, like spin. My shot is [flat], so I try to [put] more spin now."

Davis is not concerned about her height when facing bigger players.

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