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Radwanska grabs the title while injuries, apathy mar Carlsbad event

There isn't a more sublime, proper setting for a summertime outdoor tournament than San Diego. Perfect weather, a bit of ocean breeze, simply the best of all worlds at the La Costa resort in nearby Carlsbad. What a shame to see its annual U.S. Open Series event become such an afterthought among the top players.

It certainly ended well, with Agnieszka Radwanska winning her first WTA Tour title in three years and dazzling everyone with her ingenuity, but this was one of the strangest tournaments in memory.

Right off the bat, several players who had competed at Stanford the week before -- Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Marion Bartoli and Victoria Azarenka included -- left it off their schedule. Svetlana Kuznetsova, the defending champion, turned it down. Kim Clijsters and Petra Kvitova announced their withdrawals the Sunday before, forcing organizers to come to grips with the fact that players need at least one break on this circuit, and San Diego has become the tournament to skip.

Then it got a little crazy. Bojana Jovanovski got her plane ticket to Carlsbad from Washington, D.C., but she flew into Carlsbad, New Mexico, instead. Dominika Cibulkova threw out the first pitch that Monday night at the San Diego Padres' game, then withdrew from the tournament with an abdominal strain the next day. Tamira Paszek got a walkover against Maria Kirilenko (hip injury), then retired herself in mid-match against Sloane Stephens. And in the crowning touch, Andrea Petkovic delivered one of the year's great lines. Feeling a wave of nausea in the second set against Radwanska, Petkovic made a mad dash to the bathroom because she had no intention of vomiting on the court, asking later, "What is more embarrassing, running off the court like a maniac, or throwing up on the court and being on SportsCenter for the next 25 years?"

As the tournament reached its decisive stages, Ana Ivanovic found herself in a very winnable semifinal against world No. 3 Vera Zvonareva and let it get away, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Ivanovic was virtually handed the first set, Zvonareva getting broken in the final game on two horrendous errors and a set-ending double fault, and Zvonareva looked extremely vulnerable in the second set with her errant serves and her inability to close (six set points lost). And yet, through it all, the Russian still emerged as the more clutch player, especially on the backhand side, while the ever-searching Ivanovic went back to the drawing board.

Ivanovic also displayed a bizarre bit of service-return strategy that couldn't have aided her cause. Quite often, on Zvonareva's second serves, Ivanovic boldly moved two or three feet inside the baseline, as if to anticipate an easy return -- and in the ad court, she stood with her left foot noticeably forward, as if to get the jump on a forehand. But it was all a ruse; she'd quickly backtrack to the baseline as Zvonareva began her toss.

What's the point of all this? Deception? It may have unnerved Zvonareva a bit, but not in any significant way. There's nothing to be gained from moving in reverse as you're about to receive serve. And I'd love to see Ivanovic try that against Serena Williams. She'd find a second serve careening off her forehead.

Finally, there was Radwanska's thoroughly impressive 6-3, 6-4 victory over Zvonareva for the championship. Tour insiders have long been intrigued by Radwanska's intricate sense of pace, and this was her finest hour since winning the 2008 Eastbourne tournament. Fighting off the discomfort of a shoulder injury that had bothered her all week, she was all over the court, mixing spin into her groundstrokes at all the correct times, and playing world-class defense. "One of the great displays in a final I've seen in a while," ESPN's Pam Shriver said, and it put yet another top player in the mix for a serious run at the U.S. Open next month.

I'm not sure what was more disconcerting to the San Diego tournament organizers: the withdrawals, the widespread apathy, the injuries, the often-paltry crowds or the draw for this week's event in Toronto. Sharapova, Azarenka and Serena Williams are all back in business for the Rogers Cup. Clijsters and Kvitova are on the scene, as well as Caroline Wozniacki, Li Na and Francesca Schiavone. It sounds like the Open itself, and Canada never had it so good.

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