Cibulkova battles to door of semis as Kerber hands her the keys
There was but a sliver of hope, and that was all that Dominika Cibulkova needed.
She said they call her a fighter, and she gave a glimpse of that mettle on the opening day of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals in a gutsy showing to force world No. 1 Angelique Kerber to three sets before falling.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Following a loss to Madison Keys on Tuesday, Cibulkova needed to beat Simona Halep in straight sets last night to have any chance of surviving the Red Group and qualifying for the semi-finals.
And she was not going to let anything - not the fact that some calls did not go her way, or that she ran out of challenges when she was certain the line judge's call was wrong - get in her way.
Cibulkova did her bit, beating a Halep struggling with a knee issue 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), and it was Kerber who ushered the Slovak through the door into the semi-finals.
Kerber's 6-3, 6-3 win over Keys in the night's later singles match ensured that Cibulkova's sliver of hope was now a ray of glorious sunshine.
"They call me fighter and there is a reason for it. It wasn't easy to go on the court after two losses… but maybe when I have this mindset I can play even better," said Cibulkova.
"I may have looked calm, but I wasn't so calm. It seems like I'm playing my best tennis under the biggest pressure. You know, it's just a great feeling, 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."
Cibulkova will meet another player with nerves of steel, Svetlana Kuznetsova, in the semi-final tomorrow.
Kerber, whose win saw her end the group stage with a perfect 3-0 record, will take on the winner of today's Agnieszka Radwanska-Karolina Pliskova match.
A disappointed Halep, who believes that the Finals is an open tournament that is nigh impossible to predict, is now leaning towards a Kuznetsova victory.
"You can see now that everyone is beating each other. Kerber has a good chance to win," she said.
"Kuznetsova is on fire. I saw her match last night, she's incredible. Coming from Moscow and she did a great job there; she's doing here a great job. I see her winning actually. I hope she has enough power to do that."
Kuznetsova was the final qualifier, arriving in Singapore on the same day she pulled off what was needed to qualify - winning the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
Grit and gumption have been the theme of the 2016 WTA Finals, where the mental aspect has come to the fore as much as the technical side of it - and it holds true for those who will still contest in the semis, or those heading home.
"Now I know how to go out there with all the pressures I have on my shoulders. I know how to play and how to focus on what I'm doing on court.
"It's doesn't matter against whom I'm playing or like what the score is or how the situation is," said world No. 1 Kerber, who is settling into her perch atop the sport.
"I think I learnt a lot in the last few months going out there and it doesn't matter if it's the first or last round, I'm just going out there to playing my game and trying to make my game plan done."
For the 21-year-old American Keys, the mental game is something she is placing atop her things-to-get-right list.
"I let nerves get the best of me, and I think that happens to everyone, it's just something that I need to work on.
"It's not a bad thing, it happens to a lot of people, and people figure it out," she said, drawing inspiration from the likes of Kerber who rose to the top of the world order at 28.
"Obviously I'm not the best at it at 21. Hopefully there are a couple more years to figure that out.
"It feels like I don't have to figure it all out tomorrow. Some women actually do. "
Radwanska and Pliskova will fight to stay alive in the Finals in the White Group later singles fixture, after a dead rubber between Kuznetsova, and the already-eliminated Garbine Muguruza.