Among men and women who play tennis frequently, Agnieszka Radwanska’s playing style has long made her a cult favorite. Frugal with unforced errors, speedy around the court, adept at a variety of spins and tactics, from time to time able to strike a shot no one dared even existed, Radwanska is a delight to watch. Her consistency - she’s finished seven of the last eight years in the top ten - has made her a suitable candidate for the title of Best Player Without A Slam.
But yesterday, at the Miami Open, Radwanska was hit off the court, beaten 6-0, 6-3 by Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. This was pretty much a repeat of their match in the second round of the Australian Open, Lucic-Baroni winning that one, 6-3, 6-2.
Those kind of results reveal the fundamental conundrum of the Radwanska tennis gestalt. Steady, smart play has kept her in the thick of things. But while that will earn a player her share of titles and plenty of money, to win big, Radwanska might need to invest in something quite different. Clever as she is, Radwanska at heart is telling her opponents: Go ahead, I dare you. Can you indeed hit big enough to beat me? Just often enough, they will.
As lively as Radwanska is when playing points, on many big occasions, her game suffers from her longstanding complacency. Save perhaps for the backhand, you’d hardly cite any of Radwanska’s strokes as technically excellent. Her second serve, alas, is eminently attackable. As much as I enjoy the way Radwanska can redirect balls struck to her forehand, I’ve often wondered how that shot would fare versus high, deep balls struck down by the ball from the likes of Arantxa Sanchez or Amanda Coetzer.
My Tennis Channel colleague Paul Annacone once told me that while at the lower levels of the game the challenge is to minimize mistakes, at the higher levels, the objective is to maximize offense. Is Radwanska taking steps to do this? Delightful as it is to watch her dissect an opponent, one also hopes the 28-year-old Pole is also spending time sharpening her tools.