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Insider Reacts: 3 Thoughts On Cibulkova's Stunning Win Over No.1 Kerber

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

SINGAPORE – Dominika Cibulkova stunned World No.1 Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 to win the biggest title of her career at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. The win vaults the 27-year-old to a career-high No.5 in the rankings and snapped a five-match losing streak to the German.

Three thoughts on a dramatic end to the WTA Finals:

– In a season defined by small margins, Dominika Cibulkova proved the poster-child.

The 2016 season kicked off in earnest when Kerber, then-ranked No.6, survived match point down to Misaki Doi in the first round of the Australian Open, only to go on and stun No.1 Serena Williams to win the biggest title of her career.

Then comes Cibulkova, who survived the group stage in the rarest of circumstances, needing to beat Simona Halep in straight sets in her final match while also needing Kerber to beat Madison Keys in straight sets to put her through. It was the only scenario out of 16 on that day that would move the Slovak into the knockout phase and she pulled it off.

From there Cibulkova battled her way through the title, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova in three tough sets and then play her best match of the tournament to outplay Kerber, winning both matches on let-cord winners.

In a dramatic final game, Cibulkova nervously squandered two Championship Points from 40-15 up only to engage in jaw-dropping rally after jaw-dropping rally.

In the face of Kerber’s relentless defense, Cibulkova did what she had done all week. She gripped and ripped and hit through her nerves. Her bravery was finally rewarded on her fourth Championship Point, when she fired a desperate forehand that ticked the top of the net. The ball was suspended in air for what felt like seconds as both women waited to see which side of the net it would favor.

It fell on Kerber’s side of the court. Cibulkova fell to the ground in disbelief. As the old cliché goes, fortune favors the brave. And there was none braver in Singapore than the smallest woman in the field.

– Cibulkova turns the page on a nervous past.

Cibulkova is a veteran of the tour, part of the generation of players that includes Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, and Agnieszka Radwanska. Watching her over the years the tension would be a constant during her matches and the nerves would kick in at the most inopportune time.

That was old Domi. Welcome the new Domi.

“On the court I put a lot of emotions, and emotions just affect me,” Cibulkova explained. “This is something I started to learn how to deal with emotions and not let down myself; just to keep focused, and this is all about. I really work hard on it.

“Now I see this mental part for me, it’s like going to practice and actually practice on the court. As I practice on the court I practice on these things. As you can see, it’s working.

Cibulkova’s 2016 has been all about conquering the mental side of the game. She’s always been, pound for pound, the biggest hitter in the game. But her emotions could get the best of her and the rest of the locker room knew. She often wanted it too much and would strangle the life out of potentially career-defining wins.

Cibulkova tried to address the issue by hiring a mental coach a year and a half ago. The question was simple: how can she balance her ambition without being blinded by it? Over the last 16 months she has proven her mettle, whether it was getting the best of Radwanska in an epic three-set battle at Wimbledon, or coming through in her Singapore qualifying campaign by making the Dongfeng Wuhan Open final, winning the Generali Ladies Linz in a must-win campaign, or scrapping through to advance to the semifinals in Singapore.

The nerves looked like they might get the better of her in her first two Championship Points in the final. Instead of panicking after her shock misses, she shot a smile both to her box and to herself. That moment of relaxation allowed her gutsiest tennis to come through in the end.

“I don’t blame myself that I got a little bit nervous on the first two match points, because I think only very, very few people wouldn’t get when you have a match point for the biggest tournament of your career.

“But the way I handle it after, it shows that I really change. I belong there and I’m really, really strong.”

– Kerber comes up short but Singapore was still a breakthrough.

Before this year, Kerber had never made it out of the group stage at the WTA Finals. She conquered that milestone by going undefeated in the Red Group this year. In a high-pressure match against No.2 seed and defending champion Radwanska, she lost just three games. But on a day when she did not have her best, she finally ran into an inspired opponent.

This is not the first time this has happened to Kerber this season. In two big finals this season, at the Rio Olympics and Western & Southern Open, she looked to be cruising towards victory before the nothing-to-lose swinging of her opponent felled her.

“She has the best defensive game for now in the world,” Cibulkova said. “But I knew I have my shots that I can beat her with; that was my forehand today. My serve today, I was serving really, really well. Few games I played with my serve and I then was going for my forehand.

“I just knew what I have to do. I think I didn’t let her into the match really today with my aggressive game. I had just one goal. I was going after it. I think it was tough for her to do something on the court today.”

But despite the loss, Kerber finishes her 2016 season with another message to the field. She won more majors and more matches than any other woman this season. She was the tour’s most consistent winner and her balance of counter-punching and defense made her the toughest out in tennis.

To beat her in a big match you have to seize the match from her vice-like grip, hope she’s off her game, and play one of the best matches of your career. That’s precisely what Cibulkova did on Sunday night in Singapore. And there was nothing more for Kerber to do than tip her cap.

“I gave everything,” Kerber said. “I mean, it was a tough year with a lot of matches, so I give everything on court today, the rest energy I had left.

“Of course when I’m looking back it’s one of my best years. I think when I will go home now I will just think about the best moments and the positive emotions.”

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Brilliant Cibulkova Stuns Kerber To Win WTA Finals

Brilliant Cibulkova Stuns Kerber To Win WTA Finals

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

SINGAPOREDominika Cibulkova wrote the final chapter of a fairytale season by upsetting World No.1 Angelique Kerber to win the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

Watch interviews and highlights from Singapore on the WTA Facebook page!

One week on from a painful opening night defeat to Kerber, Cibulkova gained revenge in spectacular fashion, powering to a 6-3, 6-4 victory in an hour and 16 minutes.

“I have no words, coming here for the first time, the biggest tournament of my life. 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,” Cibulkova said in her on-court interview.

Dominika CIbulkova

Cibulkova dominated from the outset, bossing the baseline exchanges to romp through the first set. There was no let-up in the second, as the Slovak continued to attack anything remotely short with gusto.

At 3-3, the pressure paid off, the German firing wide to slip a break behind. For all the spectacular winners from the back of the court, arguably the most impressive aspect of the World No.8’s performance was her serve; a remarkable 83% first-serve percentage neutralized Kerber’s famed return game.

The only wobble came as she closed in on the biggest title of her career. Three match points came and went before Lady Luck intervened, the ball clipping the tape and dropping dead onto Kerber’s side.

“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!”

The masterclass – which featured 28 winners and only 14 unforced errors – was a fitting end to a dramatic debut at the WTA Finals.

After falling in three sets to Kerber in her opening round-robin match, she was roundly beaten by Madison Keys to leave her hopes hanging by a thread. However, victory over Simona Halep in her third outing saw her sneak into the semifinals, where she then staged a brilliant comeback against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Cibulkova is the second player in a row after Agnieszka Radwanska to win the WTA Finals after only one victory in the three round-robin games. She is also the first debutante to lift the title at the season-ending showpiece since Petra Kvitova in 2011, and the achievement will see her climb to a career-high No.5 when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Official WTA Finals Mobile App, Created by SAP

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Makarova & Vesnina Crowned Singapore Champions, Deny Mattek-Sands No.1 Spot

Makarova & Vesnina Crowned Singapore Champions, Deny Mattek-Sands No.1 Spot

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

SINGAPORE – Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina produced a brilliant performance on Sunday afternoon to defeat Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova and lift the doubles title at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

Watch interviews and highlights from Singapore on the WTA Facebook page!

A high-quality encounter was settled by a few moments of inspiration as the Russian pair closed out a 7-6(5), 6-3 victory after an hour and 38 minutes.

“It was such a great match. It was really a pleasure to play against Bethanie and Lucie and to be honest we really enjoyed playing it,” Vesnina told on-court interviewer Andrew Krasny afterwards. “We weren’t sure until the very end that we were going to win it. It was a really, really close match.”

Makarova and Vesnina have twice come up short at the year-end showpiece and more disappointment looked on the cards when they failed to serve out the opening set at 5-3. However, the ensuing tie-break – and ultimately the match – turned on a brilliant lob from Vesnina, leaving her partner with the simplest of winners. Two points later, Vesnina came up trumps again, her return finding the baseline to clinch the set.

They continued to make most of the running in the second, only to be denied by some wonderfully instinctive net play. At 4-3 the breakthrough finally came, Mattek-Sands sending a half-volley floating wide to surrender serve. There was still time for some late jitters, the previously immaculate Makarova firing long before swinging a serve out wide to close out victory at the fourth time of asking.

“It was a tough match and it was a little bit up and down. It was very important not to have a third set, because the deciding tie-break is a little bit tricky,” Makarova added. “Luckily we could stay solid and focused.”

The triumph comes on the back of a glorious summer in which the pair brought back Olympic gold from Rio. “This year for us has been amazing. The year-end Finals in Singapore is something we’ve been dreaming to win, so this is like a dream come true.”

For Mattek-Sands and Safarova, the result brings to an end an 18-match unbeaten run. It also denies Mattek-Sands the chance to overhaul Sania Mirza at the top of the rankings and finish as 2016 WTA Year-End No.1 Ranking, presented by Dubai Duty Free.

Official WTA Finals Mobile App, Created by SAP

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Delighted Vesnina & Makarova Reflect On WTA Finals Win

Delighted Vesnina & Makarova Reflect On WTA Finals Win

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

SINGAPORE – Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova were in high spirits as they reflected on their win over Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, which made them the doubles champions at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

“We were coming here so motivated to have this trophy,” Makarova admitted in their post-match press conference. “We came so early, because two years ago we came quite late – we had just two days for practice.”

“Not enough,” Vesnina interjected.

“Yeah, we came one week before [this year’s tournament began], and were ready, and really wanted this trophy,” Makarova continued. “We’re so happy that we did it today.”

They were quick to pay tribute to their vanquished opponents, and the role they played in making the match such a special occasion.

“We [have] always had tough matches against Lucie and Bethanie,” Vesnina said. “We know that it has to be [a] good match from us and we have to… up our level of the game, because otherwise we won’t beat them. It was really good quality tennis today in the final.”

Ekaterina Makarova, Elena Vesnina

Vesnina and Makarova’s win meant that Sania Mirza finishes the year as Doubles World No.1. The champions wondered whether she might want to thank them for their part in her ranking – or whether she was still smarting from her semifinal loss.

“Congrats to Sania, by the way,” Vesnina said with a smile. “She should give us some gift, I think. We still beat her in the semifinal so she’s upset.”

The new champions were also keen to talk about why they think their partnership works – despite the two players being polar opposites.

“We are different a little bit, but I think that [the partnership] is working because we are different,” Makarova suggested. “Yeah, I’m more quiet and Lena is more –

“I’m talking all the time!” interrupted Vesnina, and her partner agreed. “She’s lefty; I’m a right-hander. Left-handed people, you know that they’re thinking with a different part of the brain and I’m thinking with a different [part of mine]. So that’s why we’re different, but we are still together.”

“Yes – but we are still good to each other,” Makarova added.

Unsurprisingly, the pair are planning a break between Christmas and New Year – but are expecting that they will reunite in January to begin their 2017 campaign.

“For sure we will play Australian Open together, yeah; maybe the tournament before,” Makarova confirmed. 

“Now we want to enjoy this moment. We want to have a holiday. She goes to Zhuhai, so her season is not finished yet. We wish you will all big good luck there -same way as here.

“Then definitely, yeah, we will be ready for Australia.”

Official WTA Finals Mobile App, Created by SAP

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