I’m probably going to lose the handful of Polish fans who currently read this blog. And that would be too bad, but I would also get it. After all, ever since Wojtek Fibak famously made it to the quarterfinals of the 1980 French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open, Poland has not seen as high a tennis achiever as Agnieszka Radwańska. And yet I find myself struggling to appreciate her.
Radwańska is the first Polish player to win a professional tennis title. She followed up her breakthrough win at the Nordic Light Open in 2007, with three additional titles in 2008. In addition to her Junior titles, she has made it to the quarterfinals of three Slams. She is currently ranked in the top ten. And she is the first Polish player to become a millionaire from playing professional tennis. She has placed Poland on the international tennis map in a way that no other Polish player ever has before. That is a huge deal.
As a staunch supporter of Caribbean tennis myself, I know what it feels like to wait forever for a player to step up and have that momentous breakthrough. And if Dustin Brown were ever to win a tournament, I probably would not take too kindly to any blogger picking that moment to find ways to discredit him. But at the same time, I would hope that I would have the wherewithal to handle the truth.
And the truth is that Radwańska should have won that match today against Kuznetsova. After all, Sveta was choking worse than a greedy puppy that had scarfed down too much food. She was choking so bad that she had to flee to the bathroom to compose herself. Her bathroom break was so long that Pam Shriver, the ultimate talkologist, actually ran out of things to say. Kuznetsova was choking so badly that even Anna Kournikova would have had a chance of beating her in that moment. That Radwańska didn’t win this match only highlights everything that is wrong with her game.
I’ve never understood why people compare Agnieszka Radwańska with Martina Hingis. IMHO, there is nothing similar in their games. For a start, Hingis was far more creative, but Radwańska is not only fitter than Hingis ever was, she also hits a much harder ball. The only similarity between Radwańska and Hingis that I can see is the mountain of tournaments they had to play in order to climb the ranks. Thus far in 2010, Radwańska has already played 22 tournaments. Only two players have appeared on the courts more frequently than she has – Caroline Wozniacki who needed to play 24 tournaments to climb to # 3 in the ranking, and Francesca Schiavone who played 25 tournaments to get to # 8. Serena sits above the fray with only 14 tournaments thus far. Yes, in that sense, it’s the Hingis era all over again.
I also think that Hingis was a far more intelligent player than Radwańska. Hingis thought more cleverly on her feet. And her drop shots were far better disguised. Radwańska on the other hand, has a tell. When she is going to hit a drop shot, she pauses for a beat and then slices under the ball. And she is also more likely to hit a drop shot after hitting a slice than following a power shot. I was stunned that Kuznetsova did not seem to pick up on this. The best drop shots are, after all, far less predictable.
But I don’t want to give the impression that it is at all easy to beat Radwańska. On the contrary, she is a gutsy fighter who refuses to beat herself. She also never stops fighting. And although you know that she is going to go for the corners, that does not mean that it is easy to defend against her.
My difficulty with appreciating Radwańska is the same difficulty that I have appreciating the likes of Wozniacki, Jankovic, Azarenka, and Shahar Peer (to name just a few). I am tired of these baseliners who remain so damn allergic to the net despite clocking up a mass of doubles play. I am tired of watching players who wait for the ball to bounce. I am fed up of the predictability of all of these baseline queens. They make tennis boring to watch. Not always of course – there were scintillating moments in today’s match as there are scintillating moments in any matches featuring the likes of Wozniacki, Jankovic, Azarenka, and Peer. But between these moments, I find that I have to do everything possible to keep my eyes open. It takes every ounce of discipline (or forbearance), to resist changing the damn channel.
I also dislike the silliness of Radwańska’s repetitive gamesmanship. Her tendency to move in to receive her opponent’s serve and then, at the last minute, sprint backwards to the baseline, has no business working against any top player. I was stunned when Radwańska not only successfully unnerved Sharapova using this strategy in 2007 at Flushing Meadows, but when she actually admitted afterwards that this was her intent: (“Yeah. I knew that she doesn't like if somebody is moving if she serving. She was also nervous with this, so I was trying to do something like this.”)
I don’t believe that this strategy played any part in the handful of double faults that Kuznetsova committed today. On the contrary, Sveta’s double faults and moments of weakness seemed to be the result of facing a gutsy opponent who never backed down. I just wish I could appreciate her more.