Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Radwanska's Game Shines in Japan
It's pretty obvious that the intensity can drop for some during tennis' early autumn Asian swing. The Slams have all been played, and the physical toll of a long grind is being felt by most, but that is clearly not the case for Agnieszka Radwanska. The 22-year-old, who hadn't won a title in three years before taking the Carlsbad title this summer, was at her ball-massaging angle-hitting best in her first post-US Open event of 2011, the Toray Pan Pacific Open.
After avenging her US Open loss to Angelique Kerber in the second round, Radwanska went on to bagel Jelena Jankovic in the third set of the third round -- and that was just the beginning. In the semis and finals Radwanska won easily over the number three and four-ranked players in the world -- Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva -- and clinched the biggest title of her career.
So, what does it all mean? Well, for one, it means that Radwanska is a heck of a player, and while she may not be a "scout's dream" like a lot of her peers, she's as crafty as they come, as creative as they come, and also as precise as they come. The missing element in Radwanska's game has always been power, but in a sense, the lack of power is what makes her game alluring. Because she doesn't have the power to blast winners from behind the baseline or to dictate points with a big serve, Radwanska is forced to be creative when it comes to taking time away from her opponents.
In a lot of ways, Radwanska achieves the same end that powerful players achieve by taking the ball early and hitting it flat to the open court. And it really is remarkable to watch when she is on. It sort of makes me wonder: if Radwanska can win a huge Premier title like this (and beat a lot of proven players in the process), might she be able to shock the world and win a Grand Slam someday?
It's a tough question, and I'm not crazy enough to make that prediction, but still, it's possible. She's only 22, and if her multiple titles in 2011 are any indication, she's as comfortable with her game as she ever has been.
In any case, there's a lot to like -- LOVE? -- about Radwanska's game, and there's a lot that young players can learn from watching her. She's a clever line-painting player with the ability to employ a variety of modes of attack to not only get her opponents on the run, but to also keep them guessing. She'll angle the ball outside the tramlines, then come in and knock off a volley with surprisingly deft touch; she'll extend a rally by using excellent footwork and anticipation to get to balls that a lot of players wouldn't; she'll throw in the dropper and the backhand slice, the moonball and the forehand squash shot.
Radwanska's game is actually quite similar to Caroline Wozniacki's when you think about it, save for one crucial difference: Radwanska plays the game aggressively, looking for chances to close at the net or opportunities to hit angles or flat balls to the open court that will help her take control of points. And this desire to be aggressive is precisely what makes Radwanska's game a pleasure to watch. She has the patience to stay in long rallies, but all the time you know she's looking for a window to take control.
In Japan last week she was most certainly and definitively in control. And while she wasn't the most powerful player in the tournament by any stretch of the imagination, she was the most precise, the most opportunistic and the most inspiring.
And it made wonder: Does Radwanska have another gear? Might she become more than the player just on the fringe of the top ten that she's always been? Will she continue to improve with age, and find more ways to exploit her obvious tactical and cerebral advantages over the tour's big bangers?
In the dog-eat-dog world that is the WTA, a Radwanska revival doesn't seem that far out of the realm of possibilities.
Posted by a.k.a. Chris Oddo at 12:07 PM