The last WTA tournament match for 2010 was decided between Ana Ivanovic and Alisa Kleybanova. While the seemingly rejuvenated Ana Ivanovic ended her season with a tournament win, I am more intrigued by Kleybanova’s continuing climb uphill among the game’s elite.
For most up and coming stars, winning their maiden WTA tour title could be considered one of the toughest challenges they have to face. A baptism by fire of sorts, Alisa had successfully overcome that the hurdle in Kuala Lumpur last year. To further solidify her status as a serious Tour contender, she followed the title at KL with another in Seoul. Granted that many see the Bali Tournament of Champions as a parody of the WTA Season-Ending Championships, Alisa’s runner up finish is a further testament that she is a player that should not be written off, at least not anymore.
She has already proven that she is capable of performing modestly well in Grand Slams, the ultimate yardstick, at very least of potential, of greatness at most. Arguably, she has played her best tennis in Melbourne. Fans started taking notice when she beat Ana Ivanovic in 2009 and she has gained a lot of respect with her almost-win over Justine Henin last year. Both matches were three set thrillers that provided a glimpse of what could be.
Her big-hitting playing style has been compared to Lindsay Davenport. The same game has scored her wins against big names like Kim Clijsters, Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic. She has not achieved enough consistency yet to string big wins back to back. Consistency is something she has to work on during the upcoming season.
Alisa reached her career best ranking of 22 last season and is currently ranked 25. She often gets lumped together with other players who may not yet be bona fide Slam contenders but have the ability to pull off a breakthrough Slam run or a surprise Premier tournament win. She currently finds herself outside the velvet ropes where it can prove to be temporary, merely a pit stop where she could harness her true potential, or it could prove to be a dead end for decent but not brilliant players. Thus far through Kleybanova’s career, she’s displayed focus and determination, proving that she can be expected to rise further in the ranks, slowly but surely.
She could of course start overanalyzing herself but she has yet to show any indication that she would falter under the pressure of her continuing success. Injury has unfortunately become a threat constantly lurking in the shadow of modern tennis players and it could be the only real potential obstacle to Kleybanova rising through the ranks of the WTA.
She may be far from being an overnight superstar but Alisa Kleybanova has consistently shown that she deserves to be watched more closely, especially next season. 2011 could prove to be a turning point for the rising Russian.