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Hopeless cause for Agnieszka Radwanska?

7/6/2012

WIMBLEDON, England -- Serena Williams' fireworks display at Wimbledon might have been some 18 hours too late to celebrate the Fourth of July, but you can bet that Agnieszka Radwanska is concerned that Williams will repeat the show when the two women meet in the Wimbledon final.

Those 24 aces Williams fired against Victoria Azarenka, the No. 2 seed, on Centre Court in their semifinal is a Wimbledon record and aptly sums up Radwanska's dilemma before the final. She is a wonderful ball striker and her anticipation is so keen that she gets to countless balls she has no business reaching, but if you can't get a point started by getting string on the ball, those gifts are useless.

The flip side of Radwanska's dilemma is that her own serve is ... let's just say it's about what you'd expect from someone who is famous for how indolently she swings and how easy it is to tweet something between the time the ball leaves her racket and it lands on the other side. It's the kind of serve that ought to be easy pickings for Williams. If Williams jumps all over the serve, the prohibitive favorite -- even though her No. 6 seeding is three rungs below that of Radwanska -- will effectively shut down her opponent's strengths at both ends of the court.

Does that mean this is a hopeless cause for first-time Grand Slam finalist Radwanska, who could end up ranked No. 1 if she finds a way to pull off the upset?

Before you say yes, just remember the way Samantha Stosur shocked Williams in the final of the last U.S. Open. And keep in mind that grass is a unique surface that rewards two not-always-joined qualities: power and mobility.

Williams has a better combination of those two attributes, while Radwanska skews almost exclusively to mobility. That means her best chance to win rests on the hope that Williams misfires a lot more often than she has in the past two rounds.

It's not an entirely unrealistic wish. Williams struggled, mightily, against Zheng Jie, a player who is a lot closer to Radwanska's end of the spectrum than Williams'. The games of Zheng and Radwanska are as different as you can get from those of Williams' last two power-rich victims, defending champ Petra Kvitova and recently deposed No. 1 Azarenka, respectively.

Should Williams' timing be off, Radwanska will make her pay. The Polish popgun is an expert at getting players frustrated and tied up in mental and emotional knots because she knows how to deny them the rhythm they need to get comfortable. Angelique Kerber learned that in the semifinals, and in one narrow way Williams is even more vulnerable than Kerber. When her first-strike game is off, she doesn't have much of a Plan B.

There is another factor that must worry Radwanska fans. This is her first Grand Slam final, and she is playing one of the most experienced, intimidating players the women's game has ever produced. But Radwanska was the junior champion in 2005 and was a quarterfinalist twice before this year, so this isn't exactly her first county fair.

A lot of things would have to break Radwanska's way for her to win Saturday, but I wouldn't write her off as a sacrificial lamb. Williams is at that age, 30, when bad matches happen a little more frequently than at, say, Radwanska's age of 23.

"I played Serena a couple of times, but it was long ago," Radwanska said after her semifinal match. "She's a very tough opponent. [But] I think it doesn't matter who I'm going to play in the final. I think I don't really have anything to lose, so I'm just going to try my best."

A player with nothing to lose is a dangerous one. If Williams doesn't blow her out, it could be messy.