By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Angelique Kerber left Singapore in a bad-tempered huff a year ago after she failed to advance from the round-robin stage of the WTA Finals, a collapse which made the German determined to make amends on her return.
On Sunday, world number one Kerber dug deep to edge out Dominika Cibulkova 7-6(5) 2-6 6-3 in her opening Red Group tie, emerging victorious from a baseline slugfest after managing to keep her emotions in check and her focus on victory.
Her smiles in the media centre were in sharp contrast to the frown she wore last year when, after needing only to win a set off the already eliminated Lucie Safarova, Kerber buckled under pressure and was bundled out of the tournament by her Czech opponent.
"Yeah, 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," a relieved but happy Kerber told reporters at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
"Of course the pressure is really big for me, but it's a new situation. I'm really happy that I dealt with it well today in the first match for me."
Last year's meltdown prompted Kerber to overhaul her approach to high-pressure situations and she vowed to never let her emotions get the better of her on court and instead channel her energy into playing better.
The new maturity has worked wonders for the 28-year-old, who stunned Serena Williams in the Australian Open final in January, reached the Wimbledon final in July and usurped the American as world number one after claiming the U.S. Open title last month.
"The pressure is different for me now, it's a different situation and I have a lot more commitments to fulfil when I come here compared to before," Kerber added.
"But it's a challenge for me and I'm really trying to play my best tennis in the last tournament, in the last week of the season. Of course, now I'm a little bit relaxed after I won.
"It gives me much more confidence to go into the next match after the first win. So I think it's a good start for me. It was a really close and tough match, so I think that was also really important, to have a match like that in the first round."
Kerber is next on court on Wednesday when she takes on Romania's Simona Halep, who opened her campaign with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Madison Keys earlier on Sunday.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)