The British capital has a lot of things going for it, but the November weather is not one of them.
By the time the best men in tennis reach London for the World Tour Finals, the autumn leaves will have fallen and the air will be cool and damp. Since dusk arrives at around four in the afternoon in late November, the players will get precious little daylight, let alone sunshine!
In contrast, their female counterparts have been enjoying the sweltering daytime sunshine and sticky starlit nights of Doha on the Persian Gulf.
But if the top eight women in the world have gotten a better deal than the men, the next rank of women have done even better. For this week, they are enjoying beautiful Bali.
Bathed in sunshine and surrounded by coral reefs, this Indonesian paradise is a favored destination for tourists from around the world, and amongst the current crop of tourists are eight of the best players that the WTA has to offer.
The Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions begins at the Bali International Convention Centre this week, and most of the participants have arrived early to acclimatise but also to fit in a bit of sight-seeing and surfing.
Although there has been an annual tennis tournament on the island since 2001, this year-end celebration was inaugurated only last year, and has abandoned the round robin format for a straightforward knockout competition over just four consecutive days.
Not only does Bali provide a welcome destination at the close of the grueling tennis year, it gives some of the season’s tournament winners, those who did not quite make the cut for the WTA Championships, a chance to shine. To be eligible, each woman must have won at least one International tournament from the 32 on offer.
A handful have opted to miss the event—Maria Sharapova and an injured Kaia Kanepi are absent—but the field is headed by the first reserve from Doha, world No.11 Na Li, and is backed up by last year’s Bali champion, No.18 Aravane Rezai. And these top two seeds will be the ones to watch when the action begins on Thursday.
The eight hoping to make a final splash in Bali
Na Li, WTA ranking 11: 2010 title Birmingham
The late-maturing Li, who hits 29 in the New Year, has had one of her finest seasons. She very nearly made it to Doha on the back of semi-final finishes at the Australian Open, Warsaw, and Copenhagen, and quarterfinal finishes in Madrid and Wimbledon.
After a wonderful run on the English grass, winning in Birmingham, she struggled on the North American hard courts. But back in her homeland, with the support of the Chinese crowd, she showed her elegant court-craft in reaching the semi-finals for the first time in six appearances in Beijing.
Had she not lost in the first round in Moscow a fortnight ago, she may have beaten Victoria Azarenka to Doha. As it is, she finishes 2010 at her highest year-end ranking and has every chance of winning the Tournament of Champions.
Aravane Rezai, WTA ranking 18: 2010 title Bastad
Like Li, Rezai has also had an excellent 2010, and that is after a career-high ranking of 26 at the end of 2009.
The effervescent, French-Iranian woman was the darling of the Roland Garros crowd before the French Open even began. The 23-year-old came into Paris, newly in the top 20 on the back of a victory in Madrid where she beat Venus Williams, Justine Henin, and Jelena Jankovic.
Rezai played a stunning third-round match against Nadia Petrova in Paris that lasted across two days, finally losing in a little under three hours, but she proved she was a star in the making, with an exciting style of play and a fearless attitude.
She’s not made many waves since her Bastad win in July, but expect her to pull out all the stops to defend her Bali title.
Ana Ivanovic, WTA ranking 24: 2010 title Linz
If recent form is anything to go by, the statuesque Ivanovic could at last make her return to the headlines by winning Bali: She won Linz just a fortnight ago.
Ivanovic, of course, has real pedigree. She reached the semi-finals of two Premier events in Rome and Cincinnati this year, and the quarterfinals in Beijing, where she took out the No.7 and No.11 seeds.
She needs to win Bali’s opening match against No.3 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova if she is to celebrate her 23rd birthday on semi-finals day. But Ivanovic is a former world No.1 and is steadily regaining the confidence that deserted her when stardom came knocking. She could well be the dark horse winner—and not a day too soon for her legions of fans.
Yanina Wickmayer, WTA ranking 22: 2010 title Auckland
Wickmayer was last year’s WTF "most improved player" but she is unpredictable, and made just one final this year, back in January. She has failed to shine of late, and has not beaten a top 100 player since reaching the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. She may get past wild card Daniela Hantuchova but seems unlikely to reach the finals on her recent form.
Alisa Kleybanova, WTA ranking 27: 2010 titles Kuala Lumpur and Seoul
One of two women in Bali with two titles, Kleybanova nevertheless won the Seoul title without encountering a top-30 player. She has since lost to both Li and Ivanovic.
Much will depend on Rezai’s performance against her in the first round, but the young, heavy-hitting 21-year-old may have to wait until 2011 to really make her mark on the tour: she undoubtedly will.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, WTA ranking 20: 2010 titles Monterrey and Istanbul
The Russian has shown little form since reaching the semi-finals of Cincinnati in August, but, at just 19, she has risen the ranks very quickly this year. She is certainly one to watch for in 2011. However, she will struggle to beat the superior tennis of Ivanovic in her opening match—assuming the latter plays to her ability.
Daniela Hantuchova, WTA ranking 32: 2010 finalist Monterrey
One of two wild cards, the talented Slovakian was as high as five in the world back in 2003, but ends 2010 ranked lower than in 2009. There’s little to suggest she will cause an upset in Bali, especially against the powerful game of Wickmayer in her opening match.
Kimiko Date Krumm, WTA ranking 53: 2010 finalist Osaka
For the sentimental vote in Bali, look no further than the 40-year-old wild card from Japan. She returned to the tour in 2008 after 11 years in retirement, and won the Seoul title in 2009, her first title since 1996!
Perhaps she is peaking late in the year again, with her finalist finish in Osaka just a couple of weeks back. She meets Li in her first match, however, so the fairytale ending to 2010 will probably be a step too far for the inspirational Krumm.
Tip for the title
The winner of the Ivanovic-Li semi-final—and it just might be Ivanovic.