Tennis: Strategy makes up for lack of strength

By Steve Deane

Diminutive Pole concentrates on tactics and leaves the screaming to the big girls.

At just 1.72m and 56kg, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland has to rely on clever tactics to outwit her larger opponents. Photo / Getty Images
At just 1.72m and 56kg, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland has to rely on clever tactics to outwit her larger opponents. Photo / Getty Images

She's won more than US$11 million in prize money, made the final at Wimbledon this year and is clearly the class act of the ASB Classic field, but the world's fourth-best female tennis player Agnieszka Radwanska is hardly a household name in New Zealand.

With her diminutive stature and popgun game, the Pole doesn't exactly scream out for attention. Thankfully, unlike the tennis divas, Radwanska doesn't scream at all. The earmuffs needed when the likes of Maria Sharapova or the Williams sisters take the court can be left at home.

"She merely exhales when she strikes the ball, rather than loudly grunting like many of her WTA colleagues," Tom Perrotta wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

"She doesn't turn her back to the court after points. She wastes no time and bounces the ball no more than four times before serving. She says she can play with any racket and likes to use one for an entire match, unlike most players, who routinely grab frames with fresh strings."

A no-mess, no-fuss player, Radwanska is also a bit of an oddity among the big-bodied, big-lunged ladies who dominate the women's game. At just 1.72m and 56kg, she draws comparisons to Martina Hingis - the last woman to dominate through guile rather than power.

During this year's run to the Wimbledon final she was routinely out-hit by her opponents, instead relying on clever tactics and subtle deception.

"I don't think I can ever serve 200 kilometres per hour, it's just not my body," she said. "I have to do something else. I was just born to play like this."

Radwanska's brain, rather than her body, is her greatest weapon, New Zealand No1 Marina Erakovic said.

"Agnieszka is a very good player," Erakovic said. "You wouldn't really say that if you saw her on the tele or saw her [live] but she's very, very smart and anticipates incredibly well. I have known her since I was a junior and she just knows what she is doing on the court. She doesn't have the biggest game or the biggest shots but she definitely makes you work for every point."

Poland isn't renowned for its production line of quality tennis players, however that appears to be changing. Radwanska and younger sister Urszula may be the only ones playing under the Polish banner, but the likes of Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark), Aleksandra Wozniak (Canada) and Sabine Lisicki (Germany) are all first generation Polish ex-pats.

The Radwanskas nearly followed a similar path. Urszula was born in Germany, and Agnieszka began playing there at age four at a club in Gronau where her father, Robert, was a teaching professional.

"It was almost the same way for us as for the others," Agnieszka told the New York Times. "But when I was six or seven, my father decided that Urszula and I should go to Polish schools, so we went back to Poland. I think it was a good decision for the family."

Her story might not exactly parallel the Ghetto Babies legend of the Williams sisters, however learning her craft in Krakow was certainly a far cry from the sun-baked academies of Florida or Western Europe.

"Where I live, there are no hardcourts, only indoor clay and indoor carpet," she said. "I can understand that other people prefer to practice in a tennis academy in the USA or Spain or wherever. But I just feel good at home, even if it means I have to practice on the carpet."

ASB Classic

Where: Stanley St
When: Dec 31- Jan 5

Agnieszka RadwanskaNationality: Polish

Age: 23
Height: 1.72m
Weight: 56kg
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Ranking: 4
Titles: 10
Prize money: US$11,051,677
Highlights: 2012 Wimbledon finalist. Three-time quarter-finalist at Australian Open.

- NZ Herald

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