A-Rad

Agnieszka Radwanska at WimbledonIn sport, having the nickname A-Rod normally means you’ve made it. Former tennis world number one Andy Roddick and baseball home-run king Alex Rodriguez are living proof.

Agnieszka Radwanska, or A-Rad, could be the first female equivalent of top sporting pedigree. Perhaps the only reason no one has picked up on the likeness is her continued under-achieving on the WTA tour.

Voted Newcomer of the Year way back in 2006, the Pole has been consistent since then but only in being consistently average.

Granted, that sounds harsh. If you compare her career to that of the other several hundred players in the rankings she’s a very good player but in the business end of the top 20 she’s been an average figure for her whole career.

Credit must be given for her constant stance behind the shoulders of the tennis elite. Many players get there and fall down just as quickly.

However, if she’s going to make a lasting impression on the sport or reach her goals then she needs to be the one getting chased.

She’s been as high as number eight in the world and reached four Grand Slam quarter-finals with a total of five fourth round appearances at the French and US Open so she has the ability on all surfaces.   

Radwanska’s situation is similar to that of Victoria Azarenka. They’re both 22 and at one point Azarenka had always been the perennial quarter-finalist and anchored the world number eight spot. Now she’s in the top five and reached the semi-final of Wimbledon in June.

Azarenka improved thanks to a stronger mentality but Radwanska already possesses a cool persona. Her problem comes from a lack of power in her shots which has given her the dreaded “pusher” tag.

Rather than dictate points she aims to keep the ball in court and force her opponents into making mistakes or stays in the rally until an unforced error is hit. It works for Caroline Wozniacki because she doesn’t make as many mistakes but even she has struggled to win a major.

Recently Radwanska has begun showing signs of reaching that elusive next level. Victory at Carlsbad in the Mercury Insurance Open last week has been built on with a familiar last eight spot at the currently active Rogers Cup tournament.

Her win in California was her first tournament triumph since claiming the title at Eastbourne in 2008. Now with that winning feeling back she’s looking good heading into the US Open at the end of the month.

But unless Radwanska alters her game and starts hitting more winners and aces then she won’t be a superstar tennis player. She could win a slam with a bit of luck but A-Rad trend-setting status is a long way off at the moment.

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Post-Wimbledon Blues

In my early youth I believed June was the worst month of the year for sport; then I became a tennis fan and quickly realised July tops it by a long stretch.

Summer sports like golf and cricket don’t fill the void left by the football season’s conclusion and, besides the first week where the Wimbledon schedule spills over, tennis doesn’t either.

All the top players disappear for two to three weeks once Sue Barker’s wrapped up the closing ceremony on Centre Court and, due to my UK residency, so does the coverage of the sport.

Luckily I have a companion who bets and he’s always looking for a tennis punt. He’s been keeping me updated on which players have been making the most of this July tennis drought.

Here’s a summary:

The next big buzz after Wimbledon came from the Davis Cup. Bernard Tomic and Kei Nishikori were in action for Australia and Japan with both helping their respective countries to victory. Japan will next face India with the Aussies taking on Switzerland when the World Group Play-offs commence in September.

Ksenia Pervak continued her recent good form by reaching the semi-finals of the Gastein Ladies and losing out to third in the world Vera Zvonareva at the Baku Cup. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova lost in the quarter-finals of the latter event.

In a tournament where John Isner was the top seed, Grigor Dimitrov couldn’t make the most of another grass court event after his second round exit to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon. He lost to 18-year-old American Denis Kudla in Newport, Rhode Island before travelling to Atlanta and falling to Rajeev Ram in the first round despite being seeded fifth. In the same tournament, Ryan Harrison reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Mardy Fish. Harrison is also well inside the top 100 and improving on his highest ever ranking position all the time while Dimitrov is still at a respectable #57.

Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabine Lisicki continued her remarkable comeback by reaching the same stage of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, joining 22-year-old Dominika Cibulkova. The German was cast aside by an imperious Serena Williams whilst the Slovakian had to retire before her match with Marion Bartoli but her ranking has improved to world number 16.

Youngsters Tamira Paszek and Irina Falconi both made the semi-finals of the WTA International tournament the Citi Open. Austrian 20-year-old Paszek made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and has seen her world ranking increase to number 36 in the world while American 21-year-old Falconi is back in the top 100. Bojana Jovanovski made the quarter-finals and Eugenie Bouchard reached the second round as a wildcard.

As the hard court events got underway Ernests Gulbis produced a stunning turnaround from recent form. The 22-year-old ended a five-match slump to win his first round match at the Los Angeles Tennis Open against fifth seed Xavier Malisse. From then on the Latvian seemed re-born, smashing former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro 6-2, 6-4 en route to winning the tournament outright 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 against top 10 player Mardy Fish in the final. He’s now rose 29 places to number 55 in the world.

Ernests Gulbis

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