Agnieszka Radwanska takes on Johanna Konta in the Sydney International final on Friday – three days before the Australian Open begins. I had some thoughts.
Earlier this week, we witnessed the ludicrous scene of two women rushing to be first to retire from their second round match in Hobart. Belgium’s Elise Mertens and the USA’s Sachia Vickery were both entered into Australian Open qualifying later this week, and passage into the Hobart International quarter-finals for either woman would have struck them off the entry list. Neither youngster could afford to withdraw before the match, as this would also have automatically erased their names from Melbourne’s qualifying event. Therefore, after the first game of their contest, there was a flurry and kerfuffle as Vickery and Mertens scrambled to be the first player to pull out. The American won the race.
Skip ahead several days, and Elise Mertens has amassed prize money and ranking points aplenty at the Hobart International – reaching the semifinals at the time of writing. But world no. 135 Vickery, campaigning for the bigger jewel of a spot in a Grand Slam main draw, has fallen in the first round to an opponent with a career-high ranking of world no. 200.
Was the American simply not up to the occasion? As someone who has vaguely followed her several year long dip-and-rise around the top 200, I’d say that the result is not at all surprising. All the same, there remains the argument that the turnaround was too quick for Vickery (who was not seriously injured, by any means) to make any real impact. It was surely a contributing factor, if only slightly. While jet-lag would hardly have been an issue, adjusting to new conditions in a short space of time – especially given the stage – is a big ask.
As Elise Mertens continues her quest for title glory in Hobart, a woman ranked 104 spots above her in the WTA rankings is readying for a final showdown at the Sydney International. Agnieszka Radwanska – currently ranked (somewhat surprisingly) at world no. 3 – is playing her second event of the season, having fallen in the Shenzhen quaterfinals to Alison Riske last week. When she takes on world no. 10 Johanna Konta in Friday’s grand finale – a clash between two of five top ten competitors who were in action this week – she will be playing her seventh match in two weeks.
In general, this would not be a big deal at all. And the nifty Pole, whose game relies on trick-shots and craft to manufacture victories, has not contested a match in Sydney that has extended straight sets. Nevertheless, the Australian Open begins in just four days, in another part of the country. It is the Grand Slam venue at which Radwanska has produced her most consistent tennis – reaching the semifinals last season, and six quarterfinals in her history at the tournament. And the long-time pro might just have overdone the preparations.
Radwanska – despite winning the WTA Finals in 2015 – is renowned as one of the few elite stars on the women’s tour yet to claim a Grand Slam trophy. Playing a game completely lacking in strength will always put the 27-year-old at the mercy of any powerful woman striking her marks and executing angles, but more often than not, Radwanska’s floating slices and acute drop-shots are enough to keep her opponents unbalanced and out of breath – thus roping in the wins. Yet this is a more exhausting method than most. And it has been obvious that this demanding process, which usually produces one marathon match per Slam, wears her down. It may not wreck her physically by way of her own muscular strength being expended, but it means every point takes longer to finish. It’s tiring. Agnieszka Radwanska will be playing in her 43rd major event next week, and in all of her previous 42 attempts at a Slam trophy, she has either come up against a stronger and better opponent – or she has run out of sufficient reserves to execute her game plan.
Now 43 majors into her career, and – on top of what has been previously noted – not the young contender she once was, it would be highly surprising to me if the fan favourite can capture the biggest title of her career. Certainly, she would need the draw to disintegrate to some extent.
But when it comes to what the Pole can do herself to prepare in the best way possible, was playing two weeks straight – which will become four, if she reaches a maiden Melbourne final – honestly the best idea? Radwanska has never won seven straight matches at a major, and while extra matches might sharpen her game, history indicates that they might also exhaust it more swiftly.
Perhaps the world no. 3 did not expect to go this far in Sydney. In six previous outings at the event, she has gone beyond the quarter-finals only twice – and failed to survive beyond round two in her last two appearances. But it’s worth noticing that, while Radwanska made the quarter-finals in Melbourne after both her semi-final showing and title victory in Sydney, she went one better in 2014: making the Aussie Open semis after a second round loss in Sydney. That loss – coming after a first round bye – was the only match she played prior to the year’s first major.
A 21st WTA singles title would be a brilliant achievement. Nevertheless, it is practically a fact that Agnieszka Radwanska would far prefer a first Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park.
Has Radwanska acted wisely in contesting the Sydney International, or has she dented her chances of a deep run this fortnight? As that true, but highly cliché, phrase states:
Time will tell.
Thanks for reading! What do you think? Has Radwanska hindered any Australian Open title hopes she may have had (and will she ever win a major?) Sound off in the comments section!