Earning her spot thanks to a title run at the Generali Ladies Linz - her third of the season - Dominika Cibulkova heads to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global to finish what she started two seasons ago.
"In 2014 I was very close [to Singapore], and that's what made me very intense and want it too much," she told WTA Insider after winning in Eastbourne. "I was over-motivated and it didn't happen."
Cibulkova had long been among the toughest outs in tennis when a run to the 2014 Australian Open final - in which she ousted Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska en route - boosted the boisterous veteran into a new stratosphere. She who thrived as a chaser suddenly became the chased.
"Playing in the finals of a Grand Slam is a big thing. I think the other players always respected me, but when you earn a big result play a consistently high level of tennis, you become one of the best in the world."
Adjusting to Elite Eight levels of expectation proved a slow process, as the specter of a WTA Finals debut weighed the typically fleet-of-foot Slovak down throughout the second half of that season.
"If you get in your head, I don't think you can do well," she mused at the Western & Southern Open's All-Access Hour in August. "Whenever I really, really want to win, I never do."
Eager to shake off the letdown, she gamely backed up her Melbourne run to start 2015, dismissing former No.1 Victoria Azarenka in one of the best matches of the year en route to the quarterfinals.
All the while, Cibulkova soldiered on with a chronic Achilles injury; initially planning to postpone the surgery until autumn, the Slovak was suddenly off the circuit after Antwerp, returning after a four-month stretch that ultimately set her back a year.
"It wasn't easy to come back. I was around No.60 or No.70 in the world, and facing top players in the first round because you're not seeded. You really have to play well to get back to where you were before, and I think that's the hardest part.
"If you can manage that, then I think it shows you're a good player."
Cibulkova steadied herself at smaller events, reaching the semifinals in Hobart and the final of Acapulco. But the headline-grabbing upsets for which she'd become famous eluded her through the spring, failing to convert a match point against Agnieszka Radwanska at the BNP Paribas Open, and losing in similar style to Garbiñe Muguruza at the Miami Open.
"I was waiting for something at the big tournaments because at Indian Wells and Miami, I lost really close matches," she said at the Mutua Madrid Open. "Playing in Katowice helped me quite a lot; I actually didn't want to go there, but when I lost in the second round of Miami, I sat down with my coach and we said, 'I'm playing well; I just want to go there and play matches.'"
Five wins and a first title in two years at the Katowice Open was the kickstart Cibulkova craved; she avenged the Indian Wells loss to Radwanska to reach the finals in Madrid, and arrives in Singapore having won her last three matches against the reigning WTA Finals winner, including a Wimbledon thriller that will likely be another match-of-the-year candidate.
"I was able to play well because I could enjoy my tennis without stressing too much," she said in Stanford, attributing the shift to sessions with a mental coach.
"It's something that's helped a lot," she explained to WTA Insider in Eastbourne. "Now I realize everything I'm doing on the court, and I'm doing it with purpose. I don't lose my emotions so much.
"I'm not saying it'll be like this all the time because nothing is perfect, but I hope to keep it like this as long as I can."
Tied with Radwanska at 49 match wins (second behind World No.1 Angelique Kerber), the Slovak newlywed leads the tour in three-set wins and is 5-3 against the Top 10, a group she rejoined for the first time since the her surgery after reaching the final of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open.
"I played really well during the whole year on all surfaces," she noted in press that week. "It's just something, where maybe I'm more mature and just doing things better. That's what helps make me be a more consistent player, and that's what I've always wanted to be."
Up to a career-high of No.8, the sky's the limit for Cibulkova, who'll aim to be better than her best in the last tournament of the season.
"I'm not the tallest player on tour. I always say I need to have something extra to beat these players or even be on the same level. Fitness is one of my things. I need to be more than a hundred per cent. My physical preparation is really, really hard and tough because I need to be ready more than the other girls who can serve aces and things like that.
"Right now, I'm just playing good tennis, and that's what keeps me going."