WTA Finals 2016

Tennis: Stage set for new winner

Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia celebrates after beating Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the final of the WTA Finals Singapore. She is attempting to emulate defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska by going the distance. Like the Pole last year, C
Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia celebrates after beating Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the final of the WTA Finals Singapore. She is attempting to emulate defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska by going the distance. Like the Pole last year, Cibulkova dropped her opening two matches and beat Romania's Simona Halep in her final group game en route to the final.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Kerber and Cibulkova become first-time finalists at WTA Finals in contrasting styles

A new singles champion will be crowned at this year's BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, even though the two finalists are no strangers to each other's playing style.

In fact, world No. 1 Angelique Kerber and eighth-ranked Dominika Cibulkova have already faced off in this tournament - back in their first group-stage match on the opening day a week ago, a three-set affair which Kerber won.

And the German, who thrashed defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-1 yesterday, is looking forward to a re-match.

"The first match here was really tight and close, and she has a lot of confidence from the last two matches she won," added Kerber, who holds a 5-4 head-to-head record over Cibulkova.

"She has nothing to lose, so I think it will be a good match and final from both of us."

WTA Finals debutante Cibulkova booked her spot in the final first, overcoming Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 in a match that lasted almost 21/2 hours at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

  • STATS OF THE DAY

    7
    Longest game-winning streak (Svetlana Kuznetsova)

    5
    Most aces (Kuznetsova)

    4
    Most double faults (Angelique Kerber)

Kuznetsova, who was last to qualify for the US$7 million (S$9.75 million) season-ending tournament, dominated the first set with clean shots to win six games in a row.

Both players exchanged breaks of serve in a high-strung second set that featured big hitting and blistering winners that drew cheers and applause from the crowd.

A well-placed forehand drive volley from Cibulkova gave her three set points, which she duly converted with a cross-court backhand for her 14th winner of the set.

Down 2-4 in the deciding set after leading 2-0, Cibulkova raised her level of play, dictating rallies to put herself within touching distance of advancing to her biggest final since the 2014 Australian Open.

On her first match point, she chased down lost causes and arguably earned a slice of luck when the ball glanced off the net before Kuznetsova volleyed wide.

In the stands, Cibulkova's father, Milan, sobbed into a towel as his daughter fell on her back to celebrate her second win in Singapore.

Still grinning as she spoke to the media, Cibulkova, who defeated Simona Halep in her final group game to make the semi-finals, said: "The match wasn't going my way all the time, but I managed to win it even when I was down and even when she was playing really good, aggressive tennis.

"I knew I had to start serving better and I had to be the one more aggressive on court to play my game and go for my shots. So I think that was the most important."

Kerber had an easier time as she made quick work of world No. 3 Radwanska in 1hr 15min, reaching the final in her fourth appearance at the tournament.

The German, with two Grand Slam titles under her belt this season, is confident as she enters her quest to end her Singapore outing the way she started it - with a win.

"I will try to enjoy the match, but of course I think I will be nervous in the beginning, like always," said Kerber, who has yet to lose a match this week. "I think with all the experience I learnt this year in the big finals that I played, that gives me a lot more confidence when I walk on court tomorrow night."

WTA FINALS

Doubles & singles finals

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'Stage set for new winner'. Print Edition | Subscribe