There are those who seem to think that Agnieszka Radwanska woke up in this year and decided she was going to play watchable tennis. The reality is that she woke up late last year.
I've never been able to watch Agnieszka play (I'm trying to learn how to spell her last name and not keep calling her Aggie or Aga). If I had not slept well the night before and I knew Agnieszka was playing I was thrilled knowing I would have a good nap. That changed towards the end of last year when I was watching one of her matches. I was actually interested and watched her dismantle her opponent with cleverness and guile. I had never realized that her strategy was to lull her opponent to sleep and then go for the jugular. It's not scintillating tennis - it reminds me of Martina Hingis who I had the misfortune of seeing play live twice - but in this age of power tennis it's definitely something many of the current crop of WTA players haven't seen much of in recent years. The ones who have - Venus Williams and Serena Williams - may be past their prime now no matter how much they want to prove otherwise. Somehow I don't think that they'll be dispensing what they know about that style to their peers.
So who has beaten Agnieszka since she started on her tear? Current WTA #1 Victoria Azarenka did it with a little sleight of hand - or should I say ankle - that ruptured what was said to have been a friendship.
Let's look at the WTA Top Ten as of Monday April 2, 2012.
1 Azarenka, Victoria 31/07/89 BLR 8980
2 Sharapova, Maria 19/04/87 RUS 7930
3 Kvitova, Petra 08/03/90 CZE 7095
4 Radwanska, Agnieszka 06/03/89 POL 6710
5 Stosur, Samantha 30/03/84 AUS 5825
6 Wozniacki, Caroline 11/07/90 DEN 5720
7 Bartoli, Marion 02/10/84 FRA 5020
8 Li, Na 26/02/82 CHN 4880
9 Zvonareva, Vera 07/09/84 RUS 3895
10 Williams, Serena 26/09/81 USA 3830
The first thing that jumps out at me is the age of the top four women verses the age of the bottom 3, numbers 8 - 10. Samantha Stosur is ranked number five and is thus the oldest player of the Golden Circle or Top Five.
Regular readers know that I've been saying for the last couple of years that Victoria Azarenka doesn't have the temperament to be a Number One. That doesn't take away from the fact that she fought her way to the top taking the Australian Open along the way but as she exhibited in Miami that no amount of work on the part of her coach Sam Sumyk can change her nature.
In case you don't remember she was getting her ass handed to her in her match against Dominika Cibulkova. The crowd on the Grandstand Court was hostile to say the least but as a top pro hostile crowds are something she's going to have to learn to deal with. Instead at one crucial point Azarenka hit a ball in the direction of a lines person. I don't think that particular lines person had done anything to Azarenka. Instead she just happened to be standing there doing the job they were being paid to do. Azarenka didn't hit a lob. She hit the ball really hard.
Some talking head said that the Number 1 shouldn't be on the Grandstand court at all. My question is why? Would it make it different if the fans were booing in an empty main court? The number one should want to play in front of any crowd and give fans reason to like him or her. Hitting balls at lines people isn't going to do that.
I should say that Cibulkova fell off my like list after she let Azarenka take the match from her and go on to win a match she should've lost. The reason why will be found in the end notes of this post.
On to Maria Sharapova. You can be a fan of hers all you want. Even I've come around to admiring her fight. But Sharapova's game is as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. Yes she screams and hits the ball like it personally offends her but in the end she is playing the same way now as she did when she first came on the scene. Any coach worth his salt ( there are so few women coaches I think it's safe to say "his salt") should be able to construct a plan to neutralize her.
What has been happening with Sharapova is that they "hide" her in the middle of the draw somewhere. Even ranked #2 she still gets a draw consisting of players who have no weapons against her power. When she came up against Agnieszka who was not afraid of her or her reputation neither she or her coach could find a way to counter how Agnieszka played her. I do hope that Maria's coach's advice consists of more than "wait for her to implode". Agnieszka has become a player who is not going to implode mentally unless you box her in.
As for Petra Kvitova she still has the deer in headlights look when she takes the court. Her game is also very similar to Sharapova's especially when it comes to movement and I don't see that changing much.
Samantha Stosur has been a total hot mess since defeating Serena Williams at last years US Open. Like Kvitova the pressure a top player faces has gotten to her.
As for Caroline Wozniacki nothing has changed. She's trying to be a little more aggressive in her play but in the end she's still the same Caroline who needs her father to give her a pep talk or tell her what to do.
Vera Zvonareva has been in a tailspin since she made a sudden and unexpected coaching change last year. She's in the top ten but right now she's not a top ten player. To say Li Na has been inconsistent is an understatement. She won the French Open and now seems totally baffled as to what to do to generate any momentum to move higher in the rankings.
Marion Bartoli wants it badly but she's joined the ranks of other quirky players from France. She seems to have cut back on her jumping and carrying on between points but she seems to be unable to make a change in her mental approach that will propel her into the Golden Circle.
That leaves Agnieszka. Has she won a Slam? No. Winning Miami is a big deal but now lets see how she plays in the dirt. As I said I've ignored her for so long I can't honestly discuss her prior dirt play. I could look it up but I'm pretty sure the way she's playing now is not the way she was playing last year or the year before so all bets are off.
If we don't look out we'll see another Slamless wonder sitting atop of the WTA rankings. At least we know how that debate goes don't we?
There were some jaw dropping quotes made during the Sony Ericsson Open. They speak for themselves.
Why Dominika Cibulkova will never be top five. This is from her presser after losing to Victoria Azarenka Monday.
Q. Do you think there was any particular turning point in the match?
DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: The turning point was 6 1 up and 5 2 up on my serve, and I just didn't finish the match, you know. Until then, I was killing her from the return and just from the forehand.
After that, I just didn't want to go for so much. I just wanted her to beat herself. That didn't happen, you know. I gave her like very little small chance.
Andy Roddick suffers from foot in mouth disease.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. So how do you feel? It's a horrible question, but...
ANDY RODDICK: How do I feel?
Q. Yeah, after the big excitement last night. You said it yourself, you couldn't get that excited because you had this match to play today.
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, there's no real way around it. When you have to make a quick recovery, it will expose you if you're not in shape.
Most people can play a match and it's fine. It's the recovery where it kind of defines you.
You know, there are a lot of positives out of this week. I feel healthy. You know, I played matches, and I was running, you know, hard. Um, my lack of any sort of fitness regime, you know, on my leg is apparent, but that's something that is a matter of work. It's not a matter of health. That's something that's in my control.
Um, I just didn't have it physically. I got to about 4 All, and I was you know, I'm out of shape. That's it, you know. So, yeah, I mean, that's it.
Caroline Wozniacki feels entitled...
Q. Does it make you feel better that the replay on television showed that the serve was actually on the line?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Sorry?
Q. Does it make you feel better that the replay showed that Maria's serve at the end actually was on the line?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: No, it doesn't. No, because I think when the ball is so close that I think he should give her a chance to challenge at least when I don't have any challenges.
She was gonna challenge it, anyways. So if it shows it's good, it's good. If it shows it's out, it's out. The ball was so close that it might as well have been out.
Q. You seemed to have other problems with him throughout the match, kind of, or later in the match?
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Well, during this match? No, I didn't have any problems with him.
All of these interviews can be found in their entirety on the Sony Ericsson Open website.