February 25, 2012

Desert Bloom

It can be hard to stand out in a game where the biggest stars are either known for their brute strength, their loud on-court presence, their similarity to a supermodel, or -- unfortunately, these days -- their inability to win a Major. And if you don't fall into any of these categories, you may fly a bit under the radar.

But there's always an opportunity for those players to shine eventually, and with her performance this week in Dubai, Aggie Radwanska made the case for why she should be included as part of the elite. At her highest career ranking coming to the UAE, the twenty-two year old had been having a solid seven months. An improved service game and the ability to track down balls many others would let go helped her win three titles in the back half of 2012, and she's only notched losses this year to newly-minted #1 Victoria Azarenka, making at least the quarters in every event she played.

This week in Dubai, a tournament in which anyone ranked outside the top thirty had to qualify for the main draw, Radwanska brought her A-game from the start. After dropping a set to one-time world #21 Aleksandra Wozniak, she dominated Shahar Peer and Sabine Lisicki to make the semis. She had her biggest struggle Friday against Jelena Jankovic, who'd scored her biggest win in ages against Doha finalist Sam Stosur in the quarters. They split the first two sets, each losing serve four times in total, before the Pole went gangbusters in the third, winning every point on serve and bageling her opponent to finish off the match in just over a hundred minutes.

In Saturday's final she met unseeded -- at #19 in the world -- German Julia Goerges. A tad off her best career ranking, she'd had a tough couple rounds recently, but had also had trouble advancing deep into tournaments since her win last year in Stuttgart. Goerges had an even tougher road to the championship in Dubai, losing the first set to Svetlana Kuznetsova in her opener, then taking out Pattaya City champ Daniela Hantuchova and recent #1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semis. She'd only won a couple games in her previous meeting with Radwanska, eating two breadsticks in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open, but was playing ball this week, and promised to put up a good fight for the title.

She started out shake on Saturday, though. Aggie got an early break before the German got on the board and held on to build a 4-3 lead in the first set. Goerges turned things around in the eighth game, though, leveling the score and fighting off a couple break points the next game to finally take the lead. But Radwanska was relentless and converted again on her sixth break point of the set before serving it out. Both players held two tough service games to start the second, but the fifth seed ultimately built up a two break lead. Though she eventually surrendered one, the insurance served her well, and a long return of serve by Goerges gave Aggie her first title in Dubai.

The win will push Radwanska to #5 in the world come Monday, and earns her the eighth crown of her career -- a third at the Premier level. And as this twenty-two year old veteran finally begins to hit her stride on Tour, it sure looks like there will be more to come. She may not have the weapons of some of her contemporaries, but her consistency and precision will keep her in games much longer than some others. And she might just blossom into a real threat in the women's game.

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