The Home Stretch

While it may be hard to believe, the 2012 tennis season is nearing its end with less than two months of play left. With the slams are over and done with, the casual fan tends to tune out right about now. But for us who follow the sport regularly, there are still lots of good tennis on the horizon. As autumn approaches, we enter the home stretch, and for Ana, the opportunity to end the year on another high note while building momentum for 2013.

Looking ahead, Ana has four tournaments remaining on her 2012 schedule: Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and the Fed Cup final. While none of these tournaments may have the prestige as prior events throughout the year, they are still nonetheless important. Ana currently sits at #12 in the WTA rankings after her quarterfinal run at the US Open, but she has many points to defend between now and the end of the year. Most notably, Ivanovic has 250 quarterfinal points in Beijing and 375 title points from Bali to prevent from slipping away. With Bali off the schedule this year due to her participation in Fed Cup, it puts all the more pressure on Ivanovic to do well in Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow to cover as many points as possible. In all likelihood, Ivanovic will probably end the season somewhere inside the top 15, but keeping her ranking around #12 is vital to receiving a top 12 seed at the Australian Open. We have already seen how much of a difference being seeded 12th and 13th at a major can have on a players draw. So Ana’s performance these next two months could have an impact on next year. Lets take a closer look at these final four events.

Ana will begin her fall campaign in Tokyo. Last year, Ivanovic reached the third round before falling to Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 6-1. Ana is expected to be a top 12 seed this year, so defending her 125 ranking points shouldn’t be all too difficult. Of course, there are only 16 seeds and she could still very well draw a dangerous player early on, so the draw will be key. Ivanovic has made the final here once before back in 2007, where she lost to Martina Hingis. That was back when the Pan Pacific Open was played immediately after the Australian Open in early February. Since being moved to the fall, her results there have been pretty underwhelming, winning only three matches in the past four years, with first round exits in 2008 and 2009. That being said, if Ana gets a decent draw and plays to her US Open form, she could make her deepest run here since 2007.

The China Open in Beijing is one of the four premier mandatory events on the WTA calendar, along with Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid. While it doesn’t feel as big or as special as the other three, it is still just as important in terms of ranking points. This has been one of Ana’s more successful stops on tour during the past couple of seasons. Ana reached the quarterfinals the previous two years, and did so by defeating quality opponents on the way. In 2010, Ana took out #11 seed Marion Bartoli in the opening round 6-2, 6-3 and then the #7 seed Elena Dementieva in the 3rd round, before falling to Caroline Wozniacki in a very competitive quarterfinal match. In 2011, Ana again made her way to the final eight in Beijing with impressive wins over Svetlena Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva, before retiring to eventual champion Agnieszka Radwanksa in the quarters, trailing 6-3, 3-2. With 250 ranking points to defend, it will be important for Ana to have another good showing, whether it is here or the week prior in Tokyo to prevent Ana’s ranking from taking a dip, albeit a small one.

After the Asian portion of the fall season is complete, Ivanovic will head to Moscow to participate in the Kremlin Cup. This was a late addition to her schedule, but it presents another opportunity for her to pick up ranking points. Think of this tournament as a replacement to Bali, in which she has 375 points she cannot defend this year. As of right now, Ana would be the #4 seed, but could fall back a seed or two by time the tournament rolls around, depending on how things shake out in Tokyo and Beijing. It is not particularly a strong field, and given her form at that time, another indoor hard court title could be in stored.

Finally, Ana will end the season with a Fed Cup duel between Serbia and the Czech Republic in Prague. The Czechs are the defending Fed Cup champs and will have home court advantage, likely on indoor hard court. Serbia will no doubt be heavy underdogs and will have a huge mountain to climb, but anything is possible. Kvitova is one of, it not the best women’s tennis player today on indoor hard courts, and Safarova ain’t that bad of a player herself. Ivanovic too has had tons of success on indoor hard courts (think Linz, Bali and Lux). Jelena Jankovic has been out of form for most of the past couple of seasons but always seems up for the challenge when playing for her country. The chances of a Serbian win seem kind of bleak but never count them out. A win would be historic as it would be Serbia’s first ever Fed Cup title. A lot will be at stake.

Ana has stated on numerous occasions that her #1 goal this season is to qualify for the Year End Championships in Instanbul, which is held a week prior to the Fed Cup final. While it is technically possible she could qualify as an alternate, her chances are quite dim. Improbable would probably be the best word to describe her position. Sure, she could win Beijing and make a final in either Tokyo or Moscow, but realistically, that ain’t happening and that is what it will probably take for Ana to punch herself a ticket to Instanbul. So yeah, lets not get our hopes up on that one.

What I will be looking for out of Ana in these remaining tournaments is if she can build on her US Open run from two weeks ago. Will having finally reached a quarterfinal at a slam be a big enough lift to her confidence that it will spur her onto good results in the fall? The fall has been where Ana has played her best tennis the previous two seasons, and any kind of momentum she can take into 2013 would be welcomed.

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