The Toss: First to win a Slam, Caroline Wozniacki or Agnieszka Radwanska?
Agnieszka Radwanska (left) is fresh off a title in Miami, but Caroline Wozniacki leads the head-to-head 5-2. (Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
Last week on The Toss, Ben Rothenberg joined to debate whether Indian Wells or Miami, the only two mixed events with 96-player draws, had the better claim to tennis' "Fifth Slam" status. Though the debate came during the heart of Miami, 58 percent of readers voted for Indian Wells as the more prestigious event.
Agnieszka Radwanska shocked Maria Sharapova to win the Sony Ericsson Open in what was arguably the biggest title of her career. This week, Lindsay Gibbs, tennis writer and author of the recently released book, Titanic: The Tennis Story, joins to compare Radwanska with another well-known counterpuncher.
Today’s Toss: Which counterpuncher will win a Slam first: Caroline Wozniacki or Agnieszka Radwanska?
Courtney Nguyen: Thanks for joining me, Lindsay, as we revisit a topic that is near and dear to your heart: the potential of Agnieszka Radwanska.
Radwanska and Wozniacki both had solid Miami campaigns, which was particularly important given their shellackings in Indian Wells at the hands of Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic, respectively. Aga's made a good argument that she's the No. 2 player of 2012 and the improvements in her game are remarkable. She seems to be handling pace better than ever and, perhaps most important, she's learning how to protect her body. An injury-free Radwanska could be a major storyline in 2012, to the extent it's not already.
But as good as Radwanska has been, I still have confidence that Wozniacki can get that maiden Slam before her good friend. With her victory against Serena Williams in Miami, Wozniacki proved again that she can beat a big hitter. She may have come up short against Sharapova in the semifinals, but let's not forget her exemplary 6-3, 6-4 beatdown of Sharapova at the U.S. Open in 2010. That match is what made me believe that Wozniacki had the quality to win a major, and there's still tremendous upside to her game. All she needs to do is learn how to be selectively aggressive and pump up the wattage on her serve. If she can do both -- which she did against Serena -- she has the fitness and the competitive mindset to win a Slam.
Radwanska, on the other hand, still has a lot to prove. I'm not going to lie, her straight-set win over Sharapova in Miami was impressive. But Azarenka owns her right now (the Pole's only four losses in 2012 have been to Vika), and Radwanska is 0-2 against Williams, 0-3 against Petra Kvitova, 2-5 against Wozniacki and, after last week's victory, still only 2-7 against Sharapova. These are the players she's most likely to run up against at the Slams, and she has yet to prove that she can beat them consistently. Until she does that, I have to bank on Wozniacki.
Lindsay Gibbs: Thanks for having me back, Courtney! Always a pleasure to discuss the potential of Radwanska, and luckily this month gave me some new material!
Last time I was here, I talked about the birth of Aga 2.0. Ever since she split with her father last summer and won Carlsbad in August, she's been working hard and taking her game to the next level. As you mentioned, Courtney, she's definitely in the discussion for the title of second-best player in 2012. For many, she's already exceeded expectations, while someone like Wozniacki -- after carrying the No. 1 crown for so long -- will always have an asterisk by her name. However, there's no doubt in my mind that Radwanska will win a Slam first.
While Wozniacki's win against Serena was very impressive -- and did give me flashbacks to the Sharapova U.S. Open match -- the truth remains that she has yet to prove that she can back up a huge win like that. What does it say that her two signature wins both come before the semifinals of a big tournament and both don't involve winning a trophy? That's just not good enough for someone who has been No. 1 for 67 weeks. It's just more proof to me that while Caroline will always be a factor, until she really commits to changing things up in her game (and her team) the way Radwanska has done, she's going to continue to come up short.
Radwanska, meanwhile, just continues to get better. Quite frankly, I was worried about how she was going to bounce back from the humiliating loss to Azarenka in Indian Wells, but she made me feel silly for doubting her in Miami. She showed the ability to beat opponents with whom she usually struggles -- Venus Williams and Sharapova -- and the flexibility to change up her game plan. The semifinal match against Marion Bartoli and the final against Sharapova could not have been any different, but she never once lost her focus. And then after winning she proved that she now considers herself a contender by doing something that Wozniacki has never shown the ability to do: manage her schedule effectively by pulling out of Charleston.
Nguyen: Sure, Radwanska is getting better, but I suppose my biggest question surrounding her is whether she's topped out. That may seem like an unfair critique given her improvement over the last six months. But let's be realistic: Is there more upside to Aga's game? She'll always be underpowered against the top women, and if there's anything the last few Slams have proved, it's that power wins them. Azarenka, Sam Stosur, Kvitova, Li Na, Kim Clijsters, Serena. This can't be a coincidence. When it comes to which player I would back, I'm more inclined to side with the one who has more of the game on her own racket. Wozniacki may not be quite there yet, but she can get there. If you've ever seen her practice, the Dane can hit the snot out of the ball. She simply hasn't yet learned when to unleash those shots. It's just a matter of time with Wozniacki.
Wozniacki has proved -- at least more than Radwanska has -- that she can beat anyone on any given day. Let's not ignore the fact that Radwanska lost to Petra Cetkovska (New Haven), Angelique Kerber (U.S. Open) and Lucie Safarova (Moscow) during the last half of 2011 when she was actually playing well. In addition, look at their Slam results: Wozniacki has reached one final and three semifinals. Radwanska hasn't made it past the quarterfinals, and in two Slams -- the French Open and U.S. Open -- she hasn't made it past the fourth round. Winning tournaments like Beijing and Miami are great, but Slams are a different beast. Wozniacki has shown she has the game and mettle to succeed in those two weeks. Radwanska hasn't.
Gibbs: But that's the problem. With Wozniacki, it's a matter of time. Despite her win against Serena, it's hard to make an argument that Wozniacki is improving. After all, this year alone she has no trophies and losses to Clijsters, Safarova, Julia Goerges, Ivanovic, Sharapova and even Radwanska. In fact, the Dane -- who used to collect tournament titles like they were oxygen (sorry, I had to, I'm not over it) -- has now gone seven months without even making the finals of a tournament. In that same time span, Radwanska has won Tokyo, Beijing, Dubai and Miami.
Plus, she's not just winning, she's actually improving. I have watched a lot of Radwanska matches in my time -- I've seen her get wiped away by plenty of top players -- and I am still in awe of her serving performance in the final against Sharapova. Sure, I'm not denying that Sharapova's nerves were a factor, but in the biggest final in her life -- and against a player who has given her heaps of trouble in the past -- Aga played flawlessly and wasn't even broken once. That's a near-impossible statistic in the women's game, especially for a player without a powerhouse serve, and shouldn't be overlooked.
It's well documented that Aga has not made it past the quarters of a Slam, something that clearly needs to happen for her to solidify this year's amazing results. But it's not like Wozniacki has been lighting up the Slams recently either; she hasn't returned to a Grand Slam final since her lone visit in the 2009 U.S. Open. And while Wozniacki's ranking is in free-fall mode (she's No. 6 and is in danger of falling outside the top eight by the French Open), Radwanska has already made it to the top four and is within striking distance of Kvitova's No. 3 ranking. Holding this ranking is crucial for her as it means she can't face her 2012 kryptonite (Azarenka) until at least the semifinals.
Radwanska is on the rise and for the first time this summer she will be a major conversation point going into a Grand Slam. She proved to me in Miami that she had the poise --and the improved game -- to handle such pressure. Wozniacki is still young and there's plenty of time for her to get it together one day and win a Slam. She's just going to have to watch her good friend Aga win one first. You decide: Vote in the poll above and sound off in the comments for which player you think will win a Grand Slam title first.