Ponder The Racket XI: Ninjas Have No Feelings

Posted by Brodie under: Agi, SW19

6 Jul 2012

I always hated Martina Hingis. As a fan of the women’s game, I didn’t quite understand her. And it bugged me. I was still young (very, very young) and the word “fan” might not properly describe what was my Anna Kournikova love. A small girl, Hingis seemed able to win points she had no business being in, and beating opponents she had no business beating.

Recently, she has said that she much prefers being compared to Radwanska instead of Wozniacki, and I have to agree.

I have written in the past couple of weeks that power is never to be underestimated in women’s tennis. This is still true. Much like big servers tended to be the scissors to the returners rock in men’s 1990s tennis, the power in the women’s game is the rock to the defender’s scissors. It doesn’t matter how sharp you are on the ball, you will eventually be overpowered.

Slowly but surely, Radwanska has been turning heads. Since the beginning of 2011, every major winner has been a big hitter: Serena, Li Na, Kvitova, Stosur, Azarenka, Sharapova. Radwanska has been a constant of the top 10 for some time, and fans have often joked about her as the “ninja”. It’s not hard to get why.

Despite seemingly having no “weapons”, long going without a clothing sponsor and playing a controlled, often emotionless game, she tends not to make a lot of noise in the draw. Yet she always seems to be in the mix, and it wasn’t until this year’s Miami win that she finally looked like a player capable of taking a serious scalp.

To start, Radwanska isn’t a counterpuncher. At least in my eye (there’s no true definition of the word). To me, a counterpuncher is a player who counters power by returning it with interest. They’re someone who can test big hitting players because pace of shot can actually become an asset to them. Think Andy Murray or Zheng Jie for example.

Undoubtedly, Radwanska is what we might think of as a defensive player. She is not a big hitter or a big server and doesn’t win points by overwhelming players. However, this does not mean she is similar to a player like Wozniacki. Aga does push the ball, but sensibly, and is interested in constructing points, where as Wozniacki tends to play things as safe as possible (though, hopefully, signs point towards this changing).

Above all else, Radwanska has absolutely incredible hands. She very rarely makes unforced errors, something common in table tennis players, but not regular tennis players. Of any sex or from any planet.

It’s easy to chuckle at her squatting shots from seemingly centimeters from the earth. I would argue that they are one of her secret weapons. They are made possible by her incredibly strong and flexible legs, but also her hands, as she is able to adjust quickly to ensure the ball makes it over the net. The ability to do this means that she is able to stand in closer to the baseline, and the depth of shot on a fast surface does little to no damage against her. Even if the ball is quick and bounces low on the grass, it can quickly be dug out and neutralized by the SquatShot(TM).

Grass is a fast surface, but also a low bouncing surface, and Aga uses this to her advantage. She keeps shots low, not only with slices and drop shots but regular shots off both wings, and her ability to get balls back is incredible. Lastly, she is able to win long rallies because she is able to make the necessary point winning shot, in the vein of Federer. Wozniacki will often out last players to the point that they make an error or she has a wide open court to hit into. Radwanska is perfectly fine with waiting for a sliver of daylight and pouncing.

Simply put, unless players can hit hard and create their own pace against Radwanska, the options are slim. Radwanska is fine for players to hang in long rallies, in which they will most likely make the first error. She is also fine with them opening up the court, as she can play sublime defense as well as take advantage of steep angles and drag opponents off course when necessary.

What Radwanska will have trouble with, as did Hingis, is a player that can create their own pace of shot and punish the ball from nothing. This means Serena Williams. Regardless, she will return better than Azarenka did and she will think her way through the match. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, Radwanska is a victory for traditional tennis and those who can think their way through matches instead of bash their way to victory.

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap