Radwanska poles apart from final rival
Other than tennis boffins, Agnieszka Radwanska wasn't a household name to Kiwi audiences. She should be now.
The Polish champion may not have the same pulling power as the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova or world No 1 Victoria Azarenka but, after this week's exploits, her profile and undoubted ability is etched in the memories of even New Zealand's casual tennis followers.
The underwhelming crowds that witnessed the world No 4's remarkable - near perfect - surge to the ASB Classic title yesterday won't forget her mighty mouse masterclass.
Radwanska's intelligent finesse is rare. It set the tone from the start, and after five unblemished matches, ended with another comprehensive straight sets win over former Belgian champion Yanina Wickmayer.
"She doesn't give you anything," Wickmayer conceded after her 6-4 6-4 loss in her third final here. "You have to work for every ball. If you make mistakes too early you will lose pretty bad."
There was an air of inevitability about the top seed's first successful outing in Auckland. She was barely troubled. No one could break down her seemingly impenetrable wall; escape the clutches of her fleet-footed court coverage.
"I couldn't imagine a better start to the year. I'm very happy. I really like this tournament. It's my first time here and everything was very good," Radwanska said. "I had a great week here so hopefully I can come back. I didn't even drop a set."
Radwanska doesn't try to be something she's not. Variations were features of her unique game - they had to be. Tipping the scales at 56kg, probably with a racquet in hand, she resembles a featherweight punching well above her weight. It's hard to imagine someone of her stature footing it with the power hitters of the women's game, yet she's been in top 10 for the last five years, has now claimed 11 singles titles and over US$11 million in prizemoney.
She is a class act; a cut above anyone else this week, and the previous two winners, Zheng Jie and Greta Arn.
"Most of the top players are hard hitters," Wickmayer said. "They go for their shots and play very aggressive. Then there are players like her that counter very well. It's nice to watch. It's something different. She plays really smart. That's what makes her so good.
"She has had a lot of success playing this way." This past week Radwanska displayed all her tricks - the drop shot, net approach, cross-court drive and slice. All were delivered with precision placement.
"It depends who is on the other side of the net but for sure I can't hit the ball like the other powerful players," she said. "I'm always trying to find a way to stay in the games and win matches."
Those who tried to overpower her failed; those that attempted to go around her couldn't.
And so, in yesterday's fitting final battle of contrasting styles, Radwanska's skill and ice-cool composure outlasted Wickmayer's aggressive, risky, strength-based approach.
Outwardly, they could not have been more different. Wickmayer was pumped, jittery - totally on edge. She had her chances to force a third set but lost her temperament, throwing her racquet at one point. With her US$37,000 winner's cheque in hand, Radwanska will reward herself as she departs these shores in preparation for the Australian Open today.
As usual, Louis Vuitton may benefit from her success. "I have couple of handbags. I always buy one when I win something," she said. "For sure I'm going to buy shoes or handbag."
Meanwhile, Marina Erakovic won her second round qualifying match in Sydney, beating Greta Arne 7-5 4-6 6-4.
Sunday Star Times