Ana Ivanovic snapped a two-year title drought by winning the Generali Ladies in Linz. It was the site of her last title, in 2008, the year she won the French Open. (AP Photo)

A contrast with the solemn atmosphere of Doha, the Bali Tournament of Champions concludes the WTA season on a light, refreshing note.  The event’s second edition might offer more scintillating tennis than the largely lackluster week at its prestigious cousin, which provided a compelling final but scant entertainment en route.  Although few fans will follow the events in Indonesia, several players should welcome the opportunity to end their 2010 campaigns with an uplifting performance that can motivate them during the offseason.  We discuss each of the eight participants.

Li:  Barely denied a berth in Doha, the Chinese superstar often has stressed her commitment to this understated event.  Mostly uninspired in the second half after a Wimbledon quarterfinal run, Li did surge to the Beijing semifinals when the draw opened invitingly for her.  A tournament later in Moscow, she lost to the ghost of what once was Anna Chakvetadze.  These jagged momentum shifts have defined the Chinese star’s career, but she has peaked at excellent moments this season and will finish in the top 10 if Dementieva withdraws her ranking.  How will Li respond to the distinctive test posed by Date, who has flustered a host of equally experienced and mentally sturdy opponents?  On paper, she should win this title rather comfortably, which probably means that she won’t.

Rezai:  Blessed with far more power than her size would suggest, the French firecracker sizzled to titles at the Premier Mandatory event in Madrid and a minor tournament in Bastad.  Since mid-July, however, Rezai has fizzled while winning just six matches in nine tournaments and losing to three players outside the top 100.  Her fans hope that this second-half plunge resulted merely from fatigue, yet one must wonder whether Madrid represented not a breakthrough but an anomaly, similar to Martinez Sanchez’ conquest of Rome.  Capturing Bali 2009 in anticlimactic fashion when Bartoli retired, Rezai should relish the fast-paced indoor hard court here, which will reward her fondness for relentlessly pulverizing a tennis ball.  Often flamboyant to a fault, Rezai rarely fails to scintillate even when not at her best.

Pavlyuchenkova: When the WTA first unveiled this event, Larry Scott et al. considered it a platform for the Pavlyuchenkovas of the world—talented but raw upstarts unfamiliar with grand stages.  Much like her compatriot Kleybanova, the top-ranked teenager secured the first two titles of her career this year (Monterrey, Istanbul).  Even more promisingly, she reached a marquee semifinal at Cincinnati after ambushing Dementieva and Wickmayer.  At the US Open, “Pavs” recorded three routine victories to reach the second week, where she justifiably failed to solve the Schiavone conundrum.  On the other hand, she enters Bali on a three-match losing streak and has struggled with the peculiarly Russian disease of double faults, a highly ominous trend for a player still in the evolutionary process.

Yanina Wickmayer

Wickmayer: Opening the year with an 11-match winning streak that included the Auckland title, this fiercely competitive Belgian demonstrated her potential when she nearly upset compatriot and comeback queen Henin in Melbourne.  A quarterfinalist in Miami, Wickmayer faded through the summer and hasn’t won a match at the WTA level since an epic victory over Schnyder at the US Open.  More sensible than many of her peers, Yanina played (and won) a challenger before settling too deeply into a slide.  Free from the shadow of Clijsters and Henin, the third-best Belgian might shine in Bali.  She finds herself in the more tranquil section of the draw, facing a winnable match against Hantuchova.  Together with Ivanovic, she possesses the strongest serve in Bali, always an asset on a fast court.

Ivanovic:  Surely relieved to have ended her two-year title drought in Linz, the ever-smiling Serb tests her renewed confidence against solid but not overwhelming opposition.  Even before her Linz achievement, Ivanovic enjoyed an encouraging second half that included victories over three top-20 opponents, a semifinal in Cincinnati, and a second-week appearance at the US Open, where she lost to eventual champion Clijsters.  While her sunny personality mirrors her surroundings, her reinvigorated serve and forehand should crackle through the court.  Moreover, Ana opens against Pavlyuchenkova, whom she dispatched twice during her slump and who lacks the stylistic variety that could disrupt her rhythm.  If Ivanovic should advance to the semifinals, a daunting challenge would await from either Li or Date.  At this stage, however, every match won constitutes an important step forward into relevance as Ana prepares to reassert herself in 2011. 

Kleybanova:  Gifted in both singles and doubles, the Russian won two of her first three Asian tournaments this year.  Beyond those maiden titles in Seoul and Kuala Lumpur, Kleybanova became one of just three players to defeat Clijsters on a hard court in 2010 when she snatched a third-set tiebreak from the Belgian at Indian Wells.  In Melbourne, she dominated Henin through a set and a half before her serve faltered.  Yet the Russian still awaits the career-changing breakthrough that would catapult her into the top 15 or 20.  She struggled in the US Open Series where she had thrived last year, although one of her victories came at the expense of Rezai, her first opponent in Bali.  A dangerous dark horse rather than a consistent contender, Kleybanova won’t lie dormant for long.

Hantuchova:  Unlike most of her colleagues here, Daniela has gracefully eased into the twilight phase of a career filled with magnificent shotmaking and painful meltdowns.  Her elegant, versatile game should have garnered more than three career titles, but Hantuchova’s imaginatively angled groundstrokes and delicate forecourt finesse remain a pleasure to watch.  The clever albeit brittle Slovak has enjoyed her previous visits to the Indonesian island, basking in an atmosphere without the pressure that recurrently unnerves her.  Considering Wickmayer’s recent stagnation, Hantuchova has a plausible chance to collect a win or two, but she has drifted outside the top 30 this year as her triumphs over elite opponents have grown increasingly sparse.  Nevertheless, flashes of her former brilliance burst forth against Venus in Miami and during a semifinal surge in San Diego.

Date:  Her fairytale comeback became one of the most intriguing stories in the WTA during a year somewhat low in intrigue.  Can the ageless Japanese star reach a ranking lower than her age?  Inside the top 50 until recently, Date has overcome seven top-20 opponents this year.  In a short tournament where fatigue will play a minimal role, a fittingly bizarre conclusion to 2010 doesn’t lie outside the realm of plausibility.  Seeking to transcend the record set by Billie Jean King, Date aims to become the oldest champion in WTA history.  Without the burden of expectations, she can swing more freely than anyone in the draw.

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If Doha is not the final event of the WTA season, neither is Bali.  We return on Friday with a preview of the Fed Cup final.

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