Report Card: Radwanska shines in Tokyo
Agnieszka Radwanska won the Tokyo title with several impressive victories. (Zumapress)
The Report Card hands out grades for the best and worst from the week in tennis.
Agnieszka Radwanska: A-plus. That Radwanska, seemingly undersized and overpowered in today's game, consistently hovers around the top 10 is a credit to her guile. A cursory inspection of her game initially leaves one underwhelmed. For a time, I was constantly confused about how she could possibly compete with the bigger and stronger women on Tour. She regularly hits her serves in the 80-mph range, and her ground strokes have no more pace than those of an accomplished club player. Hers is not a game that commands one's attention.
But what her game lacks in "wow" it more than makes up for in wit, as she demonstrated in winning the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. She overwhelms by underwhelming, doing all the little things well to compensate for her weaknesses. While you're focusing on her 76-mph puff serve, she's placing it perfectly to negate any advantage you thought you'd have. Go ahead and laugh at her underpowered forehand. She's cutting off the angle, absorbing your power and taking the ball so early that you barely have time to react. As for that backhand? She may not hit it for a winner, but she's just placed it deep in the corner and forced a defensive lob, which she's rushed to the net to put away.
It doesn't seem like much, but that's the point. She has the ninja-like ability to escape sticky situations and, next thing you know, her opponents are walking off the court with no clue how they just lost. It's a fascinating thing to watch.
Misaki Doi, Angelique Kerber, Jelena Jankovic, Kaia Kanepi, Victoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonareva. That was Radwanska's road to the Tokyo title, with the last five matches played on consecutive days. If that's not worthy of the honor roll, I don't know what is.
Breakthroughs: B. Florian Mayer and Chanelle Scheepers earned plaudits in this space last week for becoming first-time winners. And now, Janko Tipsarevic has joined that group. Before Sunday's final in the Malaysian Open, the Serb was the highest-ranked ATPer without a career title (No. 17 at the time). But his fifth Tour final proved to be the one for the 27-year-old, who beat Marcos Baghdatis, 6-4, 7-5 to bring the number of first-time ATP winners this year to 10. Tipsarevic, up to 13th with the victory, was a little excited:
Tipsarevic wasn't the only one to break through over the weekend. Donald Young has kept his U.S. Open momentum going, this time notching a big win against Gael Monfils in the Bangkok semifinals to make his first career ATP final. It was an impressive display from the 22-year-old American, who came back from a 1-4 deficit in the third set, and then rallied from 3-5 down in the decisive tiebreaker to win 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). Young, however, couldn't back it up the next day, getting blitzed by Andy Murray 6-2, 6-0 in 48 minutes. We expect more from you, DY. Trust me, that's a compliment.
2011 Slam winners: C-minus. The Curse of the Maiden Title continues. Sam Stosur lost her first match since the U.S. Open in Tokyo last week, falling to Maria Kirilenko in three sets. Li Na returned to Beijing only to turn in a stinker Sunday, losing to Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu 6-4, 6-0 in the first round. And Petra Kvitova looked to be on her way of reversing the trend as she reached the Tokyo semifinals and led Vera Zvonareva 5-1 in that match, but she dropped 11 of the next 12 games and eventually lost 7-6 (2), 6-0. Things didn't get better for Kvitova on Monday in Beijing, where she lost in the first round to 85th-ranked Sofia Arvidsson. Stosur, a winner in her Beijing opener, is the only one left to snap the slide. Of course, she'll have to avenge her loss to Kirilenko to do it. The two meet yet again in the second round.
Loose-lipped older brothers: B-minus. Marat Safin is universally loved. He can do no wrong. Except last week when he did wrong. Giving a press conference in Beijing in advance of an exhibition with Pete Sampras, Marat let it slip that his kid sister, former No. 1 Dinara Safina, may not return to professional tennis because of her back problem. Marat wasn't saying anything that was surprising to most fans who are aware of the seriousness of Dinara's injury, but big brother should have stayed mum on the subject. That was Dinara's news to break if she wanted to break it at all. I would have given him a lower grade, but then I saw these. He's wearing that retirement well.
China Open website: A/F. The China Open website is spectacular, in both good ways and bad. From describing Monfils as playing "fancy tennis," to the headline "Li Na Screwed Up Her Diamond Stadium Debut," the official site is full of gems, some the result of poor translation and some ... not. You know things are going to be weird when Ivan Ljubicic is featured prominently in the tournament banner and doubles specialist Kveta Peschke gets the TMZ treatment at the Beijing airport.