Osaka Mayor’s Cup 2011 – Finals

Jiri Vesely (CZE) Jiri Vesely showed why he is the world number one and all but guaranteed his place there in the year-end rankings thanks to a second Grade A title of the year at the Osaka Mayor’s Cup.

The 18-year-old became the first Czech player to win the event after being taken to three sets by Lucas Pouille. He’s now finally added to the Australian Open crown he gained in January having lost in the US Open final.

It proved to be one step too far for Frenchman Pouille, who had beaten second seed Luke Saville amongst other seeded players to get to the final.

The pair had only met on one other occasion, with Vesely recovering from a first set loss to triumph on the clay of last year’s Banana Bowl. This year on hard court, Vesely won the opener but costly mistakes in the second set meant the world number 131 levelled the scores.

An early break in the decider let the top seed in and he punished his opponent clinically to take the match 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.

It was a good day all round for the Czech as him and partner Kaichi Uchida also took the boys’ doubles crown after a rain delay on Saturday postponed the match. They eventually defeated Luke Saville and Andrew Harris 1-6, 7-5 [10-4].

For the second year running a Japanese finalist lost out in the girls’ event. Miho Kowase couldn’t stop Saisai Zheng from winning in 2010 and Makoto Ninomiya suffered the same fate against Poland’s Zuzanna Maciejewska.

Seventh seed Ninomiya went into the match as favourite given her higher ranking position and support from the home crowd but 12th seed Maciejewska wasn’t overawed.

It took her a while to get going, the first set going to a tiebreak which she scraped 7-5 but after that she ran riot to win 7-6 (7-5), 6-1. She is the first Polish champion at the Osaka Mayor’s Cup after going one better than Aleksandra Olsza’s runner-up spot in 1995.

There was, however, some joy for the Japanese audience as home players Mami Adachi and Eri Hozumi edged compatriots Miyu Kato and Riko Sawayanagi 5-7, 7-5 [10-7] in the girls’ doubles final.

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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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