Is Alisa Kleybanova the WTA's future?
By Douglas Perry, The Oregonian
There's been a lot of talk lately about the WTA being in bad shape, about how only senior citizens Serena Williams and Justine Henin are flying the flag of sincere quality while the younger generation -- Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Agnes Szavay, etc. -- are nothing but long-legged poseurs.
Could be, could be. But maybe there is a youngster making a move and we just haven't noticed. Meet the 20-year-old Russian Alisa Kleybanova.
She won in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago, topping a streaking Elena Dementieva in the final. Here in Indian Wells, she knocked out Kim Clijsters Monday with an astonishing display of nerveless third-set tennis. And today, looking like a happy trained seal, she just ousted Carla Suarez Navarro in a playful, come-from-behind thriller, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4.
Despite being 5'11" and more than 160 pounds, Kleybanova has been consistently overlooked by pundits searching for the Next Big Thing. Actually, it's probably precisely because she's such a big girl that she has slipped under the radar. No one thought Lindsay Davenport would be the model for 21st-century women's tennis.
But while at first glance she'll make fans of a certain age recall Betty Stove, Kleybanova plays a very modern power baseline game. When she leans into her backhand, it stays bent. The ball zips down the line on its way to low-altitude orbit. And yet she's not just a banger. Like with Serena, you wonder how she gets around the court so well. Plus, she's smart. She beat Clijsters by changing up the pace, mixing her oompah drives with high-bouncing loopers right out of Chris Evert's French Open playbook.
Something old, something new. It looks like the future.
So is Alisa the real deal?
"But Isha, many people believe, could have been the third Williams sister"