AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA has many endearing monikers that sketch an imagery of her exceptional ability to pull off unlikely feats on the tennis court. The one that stuck since the Madrid Open in May 2014 and caught on in Singapore this week is “La Profesora”, the thinker and teacher.
After watching the 26-year-old outwit Petra Kvitova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 last night to win the WTA Finals for the first time on her seventh appearance in the year-end championship, I’d add “Inspiration” to that list.
This is because Radwanska is an anomaly in a sport where the bazooka serve is a necessary accessory. She went into the Final with the odds stacked against her as two-time Wimbledon Grand Slam winner Kvitova is, after all, one of the biggest hitters in women’s tennis and had a 6-2 head-to-head advantage.
But Radwanska thought nothing of the stats, soaked in the pressure with a variety of play and shots that dictated the pace of the game and forced her Czech opponent into a corner at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
There were the drop shots, backhand slices and high lobs that often found Kvitova wanting. There was the high rate of landing an arsenal of volleys just inside the line that heavy hitters like Kvitova agonise is too short.
Mixed all these with the boundless energy that allowed the Pole to run the length and breadth on her half of the court to return every ball and she was a menace, especially in the extended rallies.
The toll on Kvitova in the end was 53 unforced errors to Radwanska’s five.
But the match holds an inspirational tale of seizing the moment when chances present themselves because two weeks ago the Pole wasn’t even sure she would qualify for the WTA’s biggest tournament of the year in Singapore.
And when she finally earned a spot, more uncertainties came into play. She lost two matches and won one, as did group rivals Flavia Pennetta and Simona Halep in the round-robin group stage. She only made the last four by the skin of her teeth after a count back showed Radwanska had won more sets than her rivals.
Against hot favourite Garbine Muguruza in the semis, fate did not elude her. She found the Spaniard struggling against fatigue, and promptly took advantage of the moments, and stretched the Spaniard to three sets and made the Final.
And on a night when she was again the underdog against Kvitova, Poland’s La Profesora gave a master class in the art of warfare: On the intrinsic value of patience in the heat of battle. On how to endure heavy fire. On turning apparent handicaps into lethal weapons. On finding the right moment to strike when the opposing force’s Achilles heel is exposed.
All these, she delivered in spades.
In the final analysis, if Radwanska broke down after Kvitova’s campaign ended with a forehand that found the net after just over two hours, it was because it inevitably handed the Pole her biggest victory in 10 years in the pro circuit. It has been a roller coaster ride to an unlikely victory and an inspirational tale about hope and never-say-never until all is said and done.
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: A few weeks ago I didn’t even know I’d have a chance to be here, and there you go. It’s just an incredible day for me. And I know what Petra can do on court and how powerful her tennis and big serves are. She’s a lefty and her serves are very good, the best on the tour.
PETRA KVITOVA: I was a little bit frustrated, for sure. I knew the game plan and what I should play, but I just couldn’t do that. I was trying to play aggressively, but missed many chances very early in the match and also really could not convert the rallies.