WTA Insider David Kane | What are the biggest storylines coming out of Angelique Kerber's three-set win over Dominika Cibulkova to close out Day 1 at the WTA Finals?
WTA Staff

SINGAPORE - Angelique Kerber recovered from a break down in the deciding set to dispatch No.7 seed Dominika Cibulkova, 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-3, to ease into second place in the Red Group at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

Read how the match unfolded in the WTA Insider Live Blog.

- Cibulkova came to play.

After a busy fall schedule, a let-down wouldn't have been entirely unexpected from Cibulkova, who admitted to feeling tired after winning the Generali Ladies Linz to book her spot in Singapore. But earning a career milestone seems to have fired up the Slovak; once she worked out early-match jitters, she was firmly in the match.

"I cannot say I was nervous, but maybe I was too excited maybe in the beginning," she said in her post-match press conference. "But after [a] few games I just started to play my tennis."

Narrowly losing the first-set tie-break, she roared out to a 4-0 lead in the second and never looked back, leveling the match and edging ahead to start the final set before Kerber took control in the end.

"I think it was [a] pretty good match. I made [a] few mistakes, [a] few mistakes from the second serve and I missed two easy shots.

"It was really close. In this game, it's all about small details. She was just bit more consistent in [a] few games, and that's what made her win today."

Losing a close contest at any other tournament would mean elimination for Cibulkova, but the round-robin format guarantees she lives another day, and one three-set loss hardly dashes her hopes of reaching the semifinals.

"I'm not leaving tomorrow. I want to get fit, ready for Tuesday. I'm going to play another two matches. I want to keep going, keep at this level of tennis."

She may have never beaten Madison Keys, the No.6 seed and her next opponent, but the young American was far more erratic in defeat than the veteran, who appeared more at home on the slower, low-bouncing surface.

- Kerber still clutch.

Kerber's last match at the WTA Finals - a straight-set loss to Lucie Safarova that kept her from reaching the semifinals - was a bitter blow, one that triggered a transcendent 2016. Still, the German needed to shake off the demons, especially after losing the momentum to her underdog opponent.

"It was for sure a little bit better than the last match I played here against Safarova last year, but it's always tough to play the first matches here," she told press after the match.

"Of course the pressure is not really big for me, but it's a new situation."

Where she faded against Safarova, she floored it against Cibulkova, throwing in her signature forehand passing shots to outfox and outlast the No.7 seed to maintain a winning record in round-robin play.

"We've played so many matches, and I was just trying to follow my feelings in this moment. Just going for it, what I'm feeling."

The three-set win was Kerber's 18th of the season, two short of Svetlana Kuznetsova's 20. That 18-6 record has been key to Kerber's success - both of her major finals went the distance - and will continue to be essential in Singapore.

"I know when I'm on court that I can play for three hours. This gives me a lot [of] confidence, that I knew that I can run forever. I knew that I had in the last few months already close matches in three sets."

- Kerber juggling expectations, obligations.

There is rarely a spare minute for the best in the world, and it has been a particularly big shift for Kerber, who has noted the increase in sponsorship activities and media appearances since her rapid rise up the rankings. The attention has largely served her well - despite contributing to a bumpy spring after the Australian Open - but it's still a new aspect of her daily life with which the German must grapple.

"I feel the pressure. It's a different situation. I also have many more things to do in the last few days.

"But it's a challenge for me, and I'm really trying to playing my best tennis in the last tournament, in the last week of the year. Of course right now I'm a little bit relaxed."

Up next for Kerber is No.3 seed Simona Halep, who put down a flawless victory against Keys, needing little more than an hour to slide into first place in the Red Group. Halep leads their head-to-head 4-3, but the top seed has won three of their last four matches, including their most recent encounter at the Western & Southern Open. For Kerber, it's just another challenge.

"It gives me much more confidence to going to the next match after a first win. I think it starts good for me, this tournament.

"It was a really close and tough match, so I think that was also really important for me, to have a match like that in the first round."

Qualification Scenarios

- Halep qualifies if she wins in straight sets Tuesday (position in group tbd).

- If Keys and Halep win Tuesday, Halep qualifies as group winner and Cibulkova eliminated. (Keys and Kerber would play for second spot Thursday).

- If Kerber and Cibulkova win Tuesday, Kerber qualifies as group winner and Keys eliminated. (Cibulkova and Halep would play for second spot Thursday).

- Keys is eliminated if she loses in straight sets Tuesday.

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