Stepanek, Radwanksa win titles in throwback style, end droughts

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1. Stepanek goes old school: There was plenty of networking in Washington, D.C., last week. At the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, 32-year-old Radek Stepanek -- who entered the week ranked No. 54 -- beat top-seeded Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-4 in the final on Sunday for his first title in 2½ years.

Apart from being the oldest player in the singles draw, Stepanek distinguished himself in another way. After initiating a point, he often headed immediately to the net: "serve and volleying," they called it in the old days. Also, during the course of a point, Stepanek left the security of the baseline and boldly headed toward the net, hitting the ball before it bounced. By "volleying," so to speak, he was able to hit high-percentage shot from an advantageous position. He was also able to induce errors from Monfils by pressuring him. These old-school tactics worked so well, it's a wonder why other players don't try to adopt them!

"I wanted to be in control of the match, be the boss on the court, the one who is deciding what's going on," Stepanek told reporters after winning his fifth career title and climbing to No. 27. "I was aggressive from the first point to the last one."

2. Speaking of throwbacks ... Agnieszka Radwanska doesn't hit the ball particularly hard or blast 125-mph serves, but she deploys excellent tactics and does this funny thing, going entire games -- sets even -- without missing a shot. This blend of strategy and consistency has enabled her to hang with bigger, faster, stronger opponents.

At the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, Calif., the 22-year-old was in full effect in winning her first title since 2008. After rallying from one set down to win in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, Radwanska defeated (like-sized) Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-4 in Sunday's final.

"I was very surprised that I didn't lose my serve," said Radwanska, who, like Stepanek, won her fifth career title. "It was actually pretty impressive."

Said the top-seeded Zvonareva: "Her serve wasn't causing me too much trouble, but it was very different from my last two opponents. I didn't get a chance to adjust. I couldn't find my rhythm on the return and so I couldn't put enough pressure [on her]."

3. Something wild in Montreal: The other day we posed a question via Twitter: How does John Isner, then ranked No. 35 (he's now 28th), feel about having to qualify for the Rogers Cup in Montreal, while Canadians ranked outside the top 250 were gifted wild cards? Isner gamely tweeted in response: "im only 2 out. may get in. But thats what I get for poor playing first 5 months."

After an injury withdrawal, Isner did indeed get into the main draw. Still, the question persists: Especially for a high-stakes Masters event -- first-round losers get almost $9,000 -- is it fair that players otherwise undeserving are given coveted main draw slots simply because, by accident of birth, they hail from the host country? Doesn't this enrage the rank and file? Isn't it unfair to players from countries like Germany, Argentina and Japan whose countries don't hold big-ticket events? One of the spoils of hosting a tournament is the right to install a few of "your" players who might sell tickets or generate buzz. Fine. But shouldn't there be a rankings cap?

Over the weekend one of the Canadian wild cards, 257th-ranked Philip Bester, withdrew with an injury. His slot went to Ernests Gulbis, the erratic Latvian who won the Farmers Classic title in Los Angeles on July 31 and upset Roger Federer last year. This didn't sit well with the next Canadian, 324th-ranked Pierre-Ludovic Duclos, who told the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey: "They should be doing more to help Canadians. ... Gulbis is a good player but shouldn't they look after the Canadians first?"

Credit tournament director Eugene Lapierre for taking a stand here.

"We want the players to play at a certain caliber," he told tennis writer Tom Tebbutt (whose blog you should follow this week). "We don't want guys losing 6-0, 6-1 anymore. Guys should have to prove themselves by playing through the qualifying."