SINGAPORE - No.7 seed Dominika Cibulkova not only needed to win on Thursday, but she needed a straight set victory to stay in contention for the semifinals at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. She did just that with a 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Simona Halep; should Angelique Kerber defeat Madison Keys in straight sets, the Slovak will join the World No.1 in the semifinals.
"This win is really, really big for me," she said in her post-match press conference. "Really big for me. I feel relieved. I'm really, really happy about my win, about the way I played and the way I handled the situation and the pressure.
"It seems like I'm playing my best tennis under biggest pressure. You know, it's just a great feeling, you know, to beat Simona in two sets - knowing that if I want to go further in the tournament, I have to beat her in two sets. That made me even stronger in the second set."
Cibulkova came into the final phase of round robin play with an 0-2 record, with only the slimmest of chances to reach the semifinals. To stay alive in Singapore, she played gutsy tennis throughout the nearly two-hour match, hitting 32 winners to 27 errors to squeak a high-quality encounter.
"Today I had the great rhythm. Even from the warm-up I was feeling just really fresh and really wanting to go out there, even from to the first thing in the morning. I said, 'Okay, today I want to win in two sets.'
"I was doing everything for it."
? WTA (@WTA) October 27, 2016
Halep needed to win just one set to stay alive in Singapore, but suffered a slow start and appeared hampered by strapping on her left kneee. She nonetheless acquitted herself well after losing 12 of the first 13 points, pushing the Slovak into a tense second set tie-break.
"I wasn't even thinking about her. A few times in the second set I had - there was few times I was like, Okay, this can't be happening. Like I was playing such good rallies, and then somehow she put the ball back again. So there were few situations I was like, 'Okay, I want to leave the court. This is unreal.'
"That's what made me so strong also, the mental toughness, that I knew I cannot lose even one point. I have to just think about what I want to do on the next point. That's what made me win the second set. It was extremely tough mentally and physically, but tennis-wise because it was such a high level."
Two points from a deciding set - and effective elimination - Cibulkova raised her level one last time to win the final three points of the sudden death to capture her first-ever win at the WTA Finals.
"I think she played well," Halep said. "With her forehand she was dominating the match and I was very far back. I should have mixed up my shots a little bit more, to play more wide, and to make her run.
"I tried, but it wasn't enough. But mentally I was fighting until the end, so I'm okay with the match, with the way that the match went. But not happy because I lost it."
Having done all she can do, her fate now lies in the hands of top seed Angelique Kerber, who plays her final round robin match of Red Group play against No.6 seed Madison Keys. Should the German win in straight sets, she and Cibulkova move on into the final four - in that order. Should Keys take a set, the young American advances in second place; she'll be first in the group if she beats Kerber in two or three sets.
? WTA (@WTA) October 27, 2016