EASTBOURNE, England -- Jamie Hampton upset 2012 Wimbledon finalist and fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska 7-6 (2), 6-2 in the first round of the Aegon International on Tuesday.
Hampton's first victory over a top-five player comes less than three weeks after she defeated 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the second round of the French Open. The 23-old American went on to reach the fourth round, her career-best showing at a Grand Slam tournament.
Now on grass, Hampton believes she can do some damage. Though she admits the low bounces make it tougher on her problematic back, she knows her ability to create spin and her solid hands at the net give her an advantage on the surface.
"I think that the grass suits my game much better than the clay," Hampton said after defeating Radwanska. "Last year at Wimbledon was my first match [on grass], and everyone told me, 'You're going to have a ton of fun on grass. Your game translates well. You're going to be able to come forward and take balls out of the air.' It turns out everyone was right."
Hampton came into Tuesday's match winless in four tries against Radwanska, but the matches have always been close. She pushed Radwanska to three sets in Indian Wells last year only to retire from cramping, and lost a two-tiebreaker match to her in Auckland earlier this year. Hampton credits an old coach for her ability to continually play tough against Radwanska, who features a lot of variety.
"One of my old coaches used to throw all kinds of things at me," she said. "He used to throw drop shots, he would junk‑ball me. He would hit hard. He would do so many different things and also try to get under my skin with his attitude, and just give me a lot of different looks. I had to learn how to adjust and how to compete with that when I was younger. So I think that that really is the thing that helps me the most when I play her."
With five grass matches under her belt from qualifying over the last two weeks, Hampton was noticeably more comfortable on the court than Radwanska, who admitted she struggled with her movement in her first match on the surface this year. Even more important, Hampton served incredibly well, exhibiting both placement and power. She admitted she was "a little rattled" when Radwanska broke her when she served for the first set at 5-4, but Hampton ran away with the tiebreaker with some clean hitting.
"She's a very powerful player playing really aggressive tennis and serving very well, as well," Radwanska said. "I think she can really play good tennis on grass, as well. Like I said, when we played it was always pretty close, never easy. Today was the same. Just the other way, unfortunately."
This has been a breakout season for Hampton. She began the year ranked No. 70 and made her first WTA semifinal, in Auckland, pushing then-No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to three sets before her back flared up, contributing to a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 loss. But Hampton looked at the positives and cites it as the one match that proved to her that she could compete with the WTA's best.
"I had such a great offseason, and I was able to bring my game out and compete against the best in the world," she said. "And even though I didn't come out on the winning end of it, just to have the belief, 'OK, I am on the right track, this is the right thing, and even though you didn't win today, you still can compete with them and you can beat them.'"
That positivity helped her this week in Eastbourne, where she was the top-ranked qualifier. After blitzing through three qualifying matches to secure her spot, Hampton had the misfortune of drawing the top-seeded Radwanska in her first match. Some qualifiers might have cursed the heavens and lamented their bad luck. Hampton saw it as an opportunity for revenge.
"When I found out the qualifying spots, I told my coach that I want to play Radwanska," Hampton said. "I hope I draw her because we have never played on grass and she's beaten me the last four times. I want to have the opportunity to play her again and make sure I come out on top. I have been close before, but, it's nice to come out with a win today." Hampton plays No. 44 Hsieh Su-Wei in the second round on Wednesday.