Dominika Cibulkova completed the final chapter of a magical 2016 season in commanding style Sunday evening at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, getting her revenge on world number one Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-4, to claim the biggest title of her career in The Lion City.
Commanding Cibulkova Cruises Through Opener
Exactly one week after suffering a painful opening defeat to Kerber in her WTA Finals début, it was Cibulkova who dominated right from the outset; the Slovak’s explosive shotmaking causing all sorts of trouble for an uncharacteristically flat Kerber. Within a matter of minutes, the world number eight went from falling down an early break in her opening service game to going 3-0 up, with her trademark forehand doing the damage time and again.
But Kerber, who has consistently set the standard as the player of the year, soon found her range and quickly regained her footing as Cibulkova’s groundstrokes were beginning to miss the mark. A handful of poor points from the seventh-seeded Slovakian was all the world number one needed to get the set back on serve.
But it proved to only be a minor lapse for Cibulkova though, as the 27-year-old seamlessly went on to reclaim the early break before consolidating for a commanding 5-2 lead. While Kerber did what she could to mount a fightback with a hold of her own, there was no stopping the Slovak as another crushing Cibulkova forehand found its mark, this time for the set.
Taking the set in just 31 minutes, Cibulkova was one set away from claiming the biggest title of her career and her first victory over the German in six attempts. The question was: Could she get over the line this time around?
Cool, Calm And Collected: Cibulkova Caps Off Fairytale 2016 Season with Biggest-Ever Victory
With the match beginning to pick up steam in the second, it was Kerber who was struggling to keep pace with the seventh seed, eventually being forced to dig into the top drawer just to keep her nose in front.
But with the top seed’s serve faltering at 3-all, Cibulkova’s relentless pressure on the German seemed to pay off as she slipped a crucial break in front, with no signs of slowing down. Continuing to dominant behind her own first serve, specifically maintaining an astounding 83% first-serve percentage throughout the match to neutralize Kerber’s renowned return game, the eighth seed easily consolidated the break to put her within striking distance of the finish line, a set and 5-3 to the good.
Kerber, however, was not going to let the chance of ending one the best seasons in recent memory in defeat; the world number one promptly holding from there to put the pressure right back on the shoulders of the world number eight.
With the biggest title of her career on her racquet, Cibulkova speedily fought her way to double match point with some exceptional shotmaking, but when the time came to seal the deal, the seventh seed couldn’t deliver the final blow. Three championship points came and went and soon enough, it was Kerber who found herself with chances to get the match right back on level terms in the second set.
Cibulkova, however, who had fearlessly been forcing the issue on the top seed time and again, never blinked. After saving two break points, the latter with a sensational reflex volley, the Slovak found herself with another chance to complete the victory. After another marathon point, it was Cibulkova who earned a very timely stroke of Lady Luck to complete the upset in an hour and 16 minutes.
As she fell to the ground in a combination of happiness and disbelief, a very emotional Cibulkova knew that this victory marked the final chapter of a fairytale 2016 season, one that has seen her reach seven finals, win four titles, notch 53 wins, and become just the second woman—after Agnieszka Radwanska did it last year—to win the title after going 1-2 in round robin play.
“I have no words, coming here for the first time, the biggest tournament of my life,” Cibulkova said in her on-court interview following the biggest win of her career. “I still don’t know how I won, I put the ball over the net and it went in; it’s the happiest moment of my life.”
“It wasn’t easy to go on the court after two losses but I was mentally very strong and I knew I played well in the first two matches, I was just a little bit unlucky. Then at the end, I was lucky!”
In addition to becoming the second straight woman to lift the title after just one victory in three round-robin matches, Cibulkova also becomes the first débutante to take home the prestigious year-end championships since Petra Kvitova did it back in 2011, and will rise to a new career-high ranking of number five in the world next Monday after starting the year at number 66.