Polish star a quiet achiever on the rise

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 28/10/2012
Agnieszka Radwanska
Getty Images
ON TOP: Agnieszka Radwanska celebrates her win over Petra Kvitova.

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When Andre Agassi filmed a television commercial in 1990 for Canon, the director told him to say the line "image is everything". Agassi thought nothing of it, and blurted out the words.

But it came back to haunt him for the rest of his tennis career as the media and public judged him as someone more about style than substance, that tennis was less important than looking good - mullet and all - and that the bad-boy persona was cultivated rather than came naturally.

Those three words may have meant nothing to Agassi when he said them but today, more than ever on the pro tennis tour, they ring true.

In tennis, a player's image is huge and arguably holds more importance than a player's ranking.

Maria Sharapova is the beautiful but unfriendly Russian; Serena Williams is the powerful dominator; Caroline Wozniacki the choker; Jelena Jankovic the kooky Serb with a deep voice; Agnieszka Radwanska the . . . ? Exactly.

Radwanska is the ASB Classic's top drawcard this summer and her credentials make her stand out as one of the best players to come to the January tournament.

She is ranked fourth in the world, was up to No 2 in July, and played in the final at Wimbledon. Fair to say that Radwanska is an improvement on the Classic's top player this year, Sabine Lisicki from Germany, who's now languishing at 37 in the world.

But for all Radwanska has achieved this year, she still doesn't have much of a profile, other than her Wimbledon finals appearance and being one of the few successful tennis players to come out of Poland.

Radwanska has never played at the ASB Classic, or been to New Zealand, but the 23-year-old is looking forward to the trip.

"I am very excited about it because it's always nice to play different tournaments, so I'm very much looking forward to it," Radwanska said.

Tournament organisers hope that having her coming to Auckland will help entice her sister, Urszula (rank 31), who also plays on the WTA circuit, to also make the trip.

Radwanska ordinarily only plays in Sydney the week before the Australian Open. She believes playing in Auckland will better prepare her for the the first Grand Slam of the year, where her best result was making it to the quarterfinals in 2008, 2011 and 2012.

"It is good preparation for the Australian Open," she said. "I think it's good to have more matches before the first Grand Slam."

The highlight of Radwanska's year - and career to date - was making it to the Wimbledon final.

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She lost to Serena Williams 6-1 5-7 6-2.

It was a tough, hard-fought match and, thankfully, not a one-sided blowout that women's Grand Slam finals all too often are.

The aftermath of Wimbledon left Radwanska with mixed emotions. First, she was pleased to have made it to the final, but ultimately she was disappointed at not being able to claim the title.

As Wozniacki would testify, you've never really made it as a top tennis player until you've won a Grand Slam.

"It was a great two weeks for me - the best," Radwanska said.

"Of course it is always disappointing to lose in a final and especially in one at a grand slam. It was close, but I think Serena is the hardest opponent to go up against in a final.

"I did play well that day, but she was on fire. Oh well, next time."

That next time could well be a few weeks after she plays in Auckland and on centre court at Melbourne.

Williams, Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka will be favourites, but Radwanska has to be considered a dark horse to take the title.

If she does, hopefully her time in Auckland will have played a part in achieving that.

- Sunday Star Times

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