Saturday, January 19, 2013
Listen up: Radwanska the real deal
By Kamakshi Tandon
Agnieszka Radwanska tends to do things quietly. She doesn't grunt, doesn't hit with blistering power and doesn't make loud statements. And quietly, she's been putting together quite a start to this season.
After 12 straight match wins and two titles coming into this tournament, she's finally starting to get noticed at this year's Australian Open. The 23-year-old Pole is already in the top four, thanks partly to last year's breakthrough results, such as winning her first Premier mandatory title at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and reaching her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, where she took Serena Williams to three sets. And her style of play, based on anticipation, placement and variety also makes her stand out from the ranks of power baseliners.
But as a contender for the title, Radwanska's chances are still well behind those of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. And strangely, it's for exactly the same reasons stated earlier: She has won two titles in a row coming in, which means she has played two weeks in a row coming in. The streak, though impressive, could be energy-sapping by the time the tougher matches begin. And her skillful game, so effective against lower-ranked players, can be overwhelmed by the power of the big three women.
But last year's Wimbledon final gave Radwanska confidence -- a quiet confidence, of course. "It's just that for sure I really have more confidence that I can be in the final of a Grand Slam, and I can win it, as well," she said last week in Sydney.
Maybe just as importantly, she took a decent break in the offseason after dragging around a shoulder injury for a good part of last year. "I had a lot of treatment and rehab in the offseason. So far, I feel good and still one piece," said Radwanska, which might be about as close as she comes to a clean bill of health.
Her smile, sometimes a rare sight, has started to come more readily as the wins have piled up. She'll try to keep her streak -- and the smile -- going in the next round against Ana Ivanovic. A former Grand Slam champ and still one of the sport's glamour figures, Ivanovic rarely gets to do anything too quietly. But despite working her way back up the rankings the past couple of seasons, the Serb has struggled to defeat the top players. Against Radwanska, she will have to take the match into her hands, which is both an opportunity and a challenge for a player who struggles to control her nerves.
"I have to be prepared to work hard for my points and to keep on putting pressure on her," Ivanovic said. "But it's going to be, again, balance of, you know, being aggressive enough and then still patient enough."
The top half of the men's draw has followed form to a striking extent. All but two of the seeds made their designated third rounds. Injured players Juan Monaco and Mikhail Youzhny were the only exceptions. And the higher-ranked player won every one of those third-round matches except one: Kevin Anderson's defeat of Fernando Verdasco. If the trend holds, the quarterfinals should shape up as Novak Djokovic versus Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer versus Janko Tipsarevic.
Their respective opponents in this round are Stanislas Wawrinka, Anderson, Kei Nishikori or Nicolas Almagro. Can any of them break this pattern? The one with the best chance is probably Almagro because Tipsarevic is a little tired after playing two five-set matches.
"My legs are going to feel the five-set matches which I played in the last two rounds," Tipsarevic said.
The meeting between Ferrer and Nishikori might not produce an upset, especially with Nishikori having some niggling injuries, but it certainly is expected to be the most grueling. Neither player is tall, so both rely on speed and doggedness for their success. There should be some rallies that are breathtaking -- quite literally -- but it's anyone's guess who will drop first.
"It's going to be a very physic[al] match, no?" Ferrer asked rhetorically. "Because he has a very good shots, very powered on all his shots. So I will be fast in my legs, no?"
Even those watching might want to rest up.