The setting, the stakes, the field: There’s something about the WTA Finals that creates the perfect conditions for classic matches. That has been as true as ever in Singapore so far. The tournament began with Angelique Kerber’s full-tilt 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3 win over Dominika Cibulkova on Sunday, and if anything it got more dramatic on Monday, when Svetlana Kuznetsova walked off a plane from Moscow and saved a match point on her way to beating No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5.
Kerber is no stranger to the classic-match effect at this tournament. She played and lost one of the fiercest contests of the decade, to Victoria Azarenka in three hours, in Istanbul in 2012; it’s hard to imagine that anyone who watched will ever forget it. But what Kerber was less familiar with, before this year, was winning any of those season-ending epics. Coming into Singapore, she was a dismal 2-7 at the WTA Finals. That’s not a record worthy of the No. 1 player she has become in 2016.
Maybe Kerber recognized that fact, because she has played up to her top-seeded status in Singapore. She held off a hard-charging Cibulkova on Sunday, and then came back to thoroughly demoralize her closest rival in the Red Group, Simona Halep, 6-4, 6-2, on Tuesday. In the process, Kerber showed why she has become a new player in 2016, and given us a glimpse of what the next step may be for her in 2017.
“I have much more confidence right now,” Kerber said over the weekend. “I know how to play the big tournaments. Also, mentally, how to win really tough matches in tough situations, like playing finals in big tournaments, big stages. So this changed a lot [for me] as a player.”