Tired Kerber game for Serena challenge next season
Near-flawless Cibulkova stuns Kerber, but world No. 1 says she'll freshen up for big challenge next season
Smiling wryly as she watched the diminutive Dominika Cibulkova lift the Billie Jean King Trophy, no one would have faulted world No. 1 Angelique Kerber for wishing that their final clash could be played all over again.
Maybe the result would have been the same, though, because Cibulkova was like a woman possessed on the court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, flashing winners to all corners and sending her more illustrious opponent scurrying every which way in a 6-3, 6-4 win to capture the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global title for the first time.
Her voice quivering at the prize presentation ceremony, an emotional Kerber thanked her team and supporters, the disappointment obvious after she missed out on winning what is regarded as women's tennis' fifth Major.
While Kerber will regret the missed opportunity, she will get over that after a vacation.
And then she will enter the new season with renewed confidence that she can win more Grand Slam titles and hold on to the No. 1 position, against a chasing pack that will include a renewed challenge from 22-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, whom she beat in this year's Australian Open final.
Williams' run of 183 consecutive weeks at the summit was also ended by Kerber in August.
"I will go with a lot of confidence for the next year, even though starting as No. 1 is a new situation for me," said the 28-year-old.
"I still have an off-season to work hard again, and then I'm looking forward to playing against Serena and all the other tough opponents."
Many would have wanted to see a Kerber-Williams clash here to cap off the season.
The 11th-hour withdrawal by the American over a shoulder injury was a disappointment.
And it looked as though Kerber was primed to capture her first WTA Finals trophy after she won all three of her group matches and pulverised defending champion Agnieska Radwanska in their semi-final encounter.
The world No. 1 had beaten Cibulkova in five consecutive matches, the latest in the opener here which the German won 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3 in the group stage. And the Slovak was involved in an epic battle with Svetlana Kuznetsova in the sem-finals on Saturday that went to three sets.
But last night, Kerber had few answers to the 27-year-old Cibulkova and her ferocious forehands.
All of a sudden, the top seed was being run ragged her opponent compiled 28 winners to her 14.
Kerber won the year's first Grand Slam in Melbourne and also the final one at the US Open in New York.
She reached the Wimbledon final, but Williams exacted revenge in London after her defeat by the German at the Australian Open final.
Kerber's improved serve also helped her to win an Olympic silver medal in Rio in August, although it was also a shock when she lost the final to Puerto Rico's Monica Puig.
She has played plenty this year, and won plenty as well, chalking up 63 wins in 81 matches and now heads off for a well deserved rest.
Last night, it sounded as if she really needs it.
In her post-match comments, Kerber hinted fatigue could have affected her.
The last time any WTA Tour player managed 80 matches and 60 victories in a season was when Williams strung an incredible 78-4 run in 2013.
"For sure I gave everything, all the energy I had left, but it was also a tough year with a lot of matches," said Kerber.
"I was a little bit tired and I was feeling it in my legs as well. It's the last match of the year, so for sure I'm not fresh like in the first match.
"I'm always believing I can turn around matches. I know I'm fighting until the last point.
"It's just that Dominika played a great game. She was aggressive, she was going for it. I tried everything, but today it was not enough."
Much has been said here about the return of Maria Sharapova next season.
There is a posse of talented young guns like Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys - who were all here - who will also renew their chase for success.
And there is also Williams, who will be keyed up to add to her otherworldly resume and grow her Grand Slam collection.
Kerber's rise to the top has been one of tennis' feel-good stories of the year and Singapore warmly welcomed the game's new No. 1 in the season finale at the WTA Finals.
She believes there's more to come from her, as she gets set for a holiday before preparing for the challenge, from Williams and the rest.
Breaking into a rare smile, she said: "Of course it's not too bad. I'm looking forward to next year for sure.
"This has been a special year and I think next year can also be a really special one with more new experiences."