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.


Petko Dance

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t mentioned the Petkovic dance on this blog yet.

As she’s getting better, it will become more frequent; a future Grand Slam victory dance perhaps?

Andrea, please don’t ever stop.

The decline of Roger Federer

Finale Roland Garros 2009 : Roger Federer Roger Federer should quit tennis by the end of the year.

His latest quarter-final defeat to the hands of Austrian Jurgen Melzer at the Monte Carlo Masters has proven how far he’s fallen.

Having already lost his number one world ranking to Rafael Nadal, the 16-time Grand Slam winner has dropped to number three in the world and looks more likely to fall further than return to his former glory.

It’s a sad state of affairs for the Swiss. Many people, me included, would say he’s the best player in tennis history so for his sake he should retire rather than turn into a Lleyton Hewitt.

Pete Sampras left the sport around the same age as Federer is now after winning the 2002 US Open and was remembered in such high esteem despite a similar bad patch during the turn of the millennium.

One hopes Federer can also produce one more triumph before retirement but here’s how I see the 29-year-old’s season from here.

He’ll no doubt lose at the French Open. Before it was always to Nadal in the final but the likelihood is he will fall at the quarter-finals or semis.

When he then loses at his beloved Wimbledon again the mind will then creep towards retirement. Losing to Tomas Berdych in last year’s quarter-finals was a huge shock and if he does something similar in 2011 it could spell the end.

Another tournament he’s always been dominant in is the US Open. Novak Djokovic has proven unstoppable on the hard courts during the early stages of this season and that may well see him crowned winner at Flushing Meadows should he continue his fine form on his charge to number one.

Come the time when the ATP World Tour Finals is set to take place Federer may have won a few more singles titles but his previous dominance will have diminished.

The chances are he’ll want to say goodbye to Wimbledon’s centre court so one more send-off year could happen but the end of the Federer reign is undeniably here.

Looking at it from a different perspective, what does that mean for the rest of the ATP tour? It certainly gives the likes of Andy Murray a chance of a first Slam and Juan Martin Del Potro the chance of more.

Djokovic and Nadal may be fantastic players but they’ve never really had a dominating career like the one Federer has had. Djokovic is reaping the benefits of Federer’s decline already and others could follow.

Whilst every major had Nadal or Federer as clear favourites some more of the top ten will be fancied in this new era of tennis.

As unfortunate a loss to tennis as Roger Federer is, it will blow the men’s tennis field a little bit more open.

Some classic Federer from his 2010 US Open fourth round tie against Brian Dabul

The Curious Case of Ernests Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis

Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis should be in the world’s top 10, if not for his tennis skills then certainly for his crazy antics.

At the age of 22, he’s already been to jail in Sweden after an incident involving a prostitute and on court breaks more rackets than a noise officer.

Novak Djokovic is the only top player with a bit of spunk. He’s become a star via two Grand Slam titles and an increasingly popular internet career thanks partly to some hilarious impressions at the US Open (and Ace of Baseline also recommends his advert for Head).

“Ernie” is even more wilder than the in-form Serb but the potential for even more scenes like the ones from Djokovic are hindered by his poor performances on the big stages.

First round defeats have been next to Gulbis’ name in major tournaments since the 2009 US Open and he has won only one ATP tour title. His record against top 10 players is also appalling.

Yet Gulbis did reach the quarter finals of the French Open three years ago so the talent is there, particularly on clay.

What’s missing is the attitude to make it to the top. Most players who suffer a setback use the same line of trying harder in practice but for Gulbis he’d rather not bother with it.

There’s also a case he may not even care about performing to the crowd but we’ll never know until we see him on a regular basis.

A friend of Marat Safin, the two have drawn comparisons by their casual approach to the sport, somewhat refreshing but it doesn’t garnish that much success.

Another problem facing Gulbis is he’s a bit of a headcase. On the prostitute fiasco, an alleged solicitation attempt, he commented that everyone should experience jail once in their lives with six hours of his spent behind bars.

Gulbis didn’t know of his lady friend’s career choice because he didn’t ask and after a fine he was free to go. On court he’s known to get frustrated quite often and destroying his racket heads in the process.

It’s a shame really that Gulbis isn’t seen more by the public. When beating Roger Federer after missing six match points he said in an interview “I was shitting in my pants”. Just imagine the kind of things he’d come out with. He’s the kind of guy who’d snog Sue Barker on-air for a laugh.

The game needs more characters and the public will be grateful if Gulbis can one day match the feats of Djokovic on and off centre court.

And of course we’ll be watching, in Ernests.

Sleeping Giants

Bernard TomicSince 2003, America has been awaiting a male Grand Slam winner.

Andy Roddick won the US Open on his own turf eight years ago and still remains the only real chance of adding to the illustrious legacy of a dominant tennis nation.

Roddick very nearly won Wimbledon in 2009 but at the age of 28 his chances of building on his solitary Grand Slam victory are slipping.

It’s perplexing how a country which has spawned legends such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe is running out of talent at the highest level.

It’s very much a similar story for Australian tennis too. Not since Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon back in 2002 have we seen the Aussies challenge at Grand Slam level.

Although not enjoying the same kind of history as the USA, with Mark Philippoussis and Pat Cash being the only other notable players in the last 30 years, they did produce tennis legend Rod Laver and the passionate sport-loving Australian public demand competitors in the Grand Slam event they annually host.

There is, though, hope that both countries could end their barren runs and it comes in the form of two 18-year-olds.

At number nine in the USA’s best ranked players and at 156 in the world’s, Ryan Harrison could be the next Grand Slam contester and take over the mantle of Roddick in two or three years.

Being an American automatically gives Harrison an advantage of great home support at Flushing Meadows enhancing his US Open chances in the process. Australian Bernard Tomic is in the same position.

Like Harrison, Tomic is currently sitting outside the top 100. On paper, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s another product of the Eastern European tennis machine churning out talented players every year but, although of Croatian descent, he is from Down Under.

That home advantage has already begun to have an effect with Tomic mustering a third round run at this year’s Australian Open.

But be warned, the teen has also gained a controversial reputation in his short career so far. He’s been quoted as saying compatriot and former world number one Hewitt was “not good enough” for him to practice with whilst his father and coach John has threatened to convert his nationality to Croatian.

That could hinder his dreams greatly as his support on and off the court wouldn’t be at the same level.

Even if Tomic and Harrison don’t make Grand Slam winners it’s crucial for both countries to encourage new talented youngsters to pick up a racket.

Currently the Williams sisters and the recent success of Sam Stosur have been keeping US and Aussie fans content but after their reign ends there’s little waiting in the wings to keep the respective legacies going.

Harrison and Tomic therefore play a more important role than just winning tournaments, they must also win over new tennis fans and the stars of the future.

Ryan Harrison loses his shirt
Youngsters Ryan Harrison and Bernard Tomic are the next prospects from the supposed giants of world tennis

Britain’s Rising ‘Sons’

Britain’s tennis history has a bad reputation. Constantly the press remind us it’s been x amount of years since Fred Perry became the last man to win a major title with that number currently standing at 75.

Although not as bad as the males, it doesn’t make for better reading when you look at the women’s game either. If you take a journey back through the decades you’ll find the likes of Virginia Wade and Sue Barker winning Grand Slam titles in the late 1970’s.

Now their great achievements are limited to mere captions on Wimbledon’s annual summer coverage.

Having not enjoyed any success in the womens’ singles for more than 40 years now there seems to be more of a desire to have a top ranked British female to support alongside Andy Murray.

Not since Annabel Croft has a female star emerged from the UK and even she quit the sport at the age of 21 despite winning both the Wimbledon and Australian Open juniors in 1984.

Instead Britain’s female tennis players are in effect long distant relatives. Whilst you may only see your great aunt on birthdays or at Christmas the British public only see the likes of Katie O’Brien and Melanie South once a summer as a wildcard entry into the first round of Wimbledon.

Once amongst those wildcards were Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong who have now gallantly broken into the top 100 but have a combined age of 54. Though they may have four or so more years competing at high levels on the WTA tour, the chances of them holding down a top 20 place or going on a great run at a Grand Slam are dwindling every year.

The hopes of the success-starved nation rests instead with Laura Robson and Heather Watson – the prodigal “sons” so to speak.

Since winning the Wimbledon girls’ singles title as a 14-year-old much has been expected of Melbourne-born Robson. Despite her 239 world ranking she is seen as Britain’s finest hope of repeating those 2008 scenes on the senior tour.

Watson, the third best female tennis player in Britain aged just 18, sits 108 places higher than her fellow Brit. In 2009 she won the US Open juniors which you may not know much about due to the media spotlight surrounding the potential future pin-up girl Robson.

Neither has yet won a WTA title but at the moment it’s a matter of amassing ranking points via qualification rounds and a few runs on the bigger stage.

Robson missed out on the 2011 Australian Open’s qualifying event due to injury which has also seen her position in the world rankings fall. This year she’s based in Paris with a new coach in Patrick Mouratoglou who’s seen previous success guiding Marcos Baghdatis and Aravane Rezai into top 20 players.

Whilst Robson will probably take a few months to break through properly, Watson is pretty close already.

Quarter-final runs in the Auckland Classic and Cellular South Cup this year have given her valuable experience against quality opposition and the environment of larger courts and crowds.

Should the pair’s progression continue at its current rate this year’s Wimbledon audience might be introduced something to shout about for many summers and tournaments to come.

33 Girls' Singles - Finals
Laura Robson (left) is all smiles after defeating Noppawan Lertcheewakarn in the 2008 Wimbledon girls’ singles final

Heather Watson
Heather Watson at the 2009 US Open juniors final where she beat Yana Buchina 6-4, 6-1

You can follow the fortunes and thoughts of both Laura and Heather on Twitter but be sure to check back to Ace of Baseline for the latest news on the young duo.

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