November 8, 2010

Bali High

Well it sure has been an interesting year for Ana Ivanovic.

After a second round loss at the Australian Open and a failure to come even close to repeating her run to the Indian Wells finals, the former world #1 dropped out of the top fifty for the first time in about five years. She had more than a couple public meltdowns on court, openly sobbing when she lost matches and seemed to lose some of the spunk that helped her win the 2008 French Open.

But a switch seemed to flip in the Serb sometime around the spring. She made a solid run to the semis in Rome, beating three seeded players along the way. She then followed up on two of those wins by downing Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati and Elena Dementieva in Beijing before finally claiming the trophy in Linz, her first in two years.

Her efforts earned her an entry to the Tournament of Champions in Bali. Sort of a consolation prize for those who didn't quite qualify for the year-end championships in Doha, the event this year pitted six ladies who'd won crowns this year against a couple of wildcards who'd shown their strengths all year long. World #11 and Australian Open semifinalist Na Li and last year's titleist Aravane Rezai claimed the top two seeds, but it was the four unseeded players who made it to the final four. Ana faced off against veteran Kimiko Date Krumm while wildcard Daniela Hantuchova met Alisa Kleybanova.

In probably the closest match of the tournament, Ivanovic survived a nail-biter against Kimiko -- though she barely got half of her first serves in during the opening set, she won seventy-five percent of those attempts and finally scored a late break to get the early lead. She lost the second in a tiebreak, but didn't allow her opponent to get a look in the decider, winning all but four points on her own serve and securing her spot in the finals after nearly two-and-a-half hours of play.

There Ana met Kleybanova who had had a much easier time with Hantuchova in her semi, dropping only four games in the hour or so they played. The two had split their previous six meetings, though Ivanovic had beaten the Seoul and Kuala Lumpur champion in their two most recent bouts. In the final, just a day after her twenty-third birthday, Ivanovic got off to a good start, converting on two of her four break chances to get out ahead. Though the scoreline stayed a bit closer in the second, she raised the level of her serving, firing off six aces and ultimately winning, 7-5 in the breaker.

The win not only grants Ivanovic her second title of the year -- the most prolific she's been since that breakout year in 2008 -- but it gets her back in the top twenty. As of this morning, she's ranked seventeenth in the world, ahead of Rezai and Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Not a bad place to end a year which started off so shakily. With the momentum she's gained over the past month, and now well back into seeding territory, Ivanovic might even be a legitimate contender in Melbourne. She's made the finals there before and has shown that she's still able to beat some of the big guns -- with a few months off, who knows how much stronger she can get?

After all, she might not quite be at the top of her game, but she sure seems to be heading that way.

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