Wimbledon: Radwanska d. Kerber

Thursday, July 05, 2012 /by

ARRacing toward the back wall, Agnieszka Radwanska was so far behind the baseline that she could have glanced at the linesman's wristwatch for a quick time check before hitting an over-the-shoulder lob. That determined excursion came during a 16-shot exchange that covered all areas of the court and concluded with Angelique Kerber's arms raised in triumph.

Radwanska lost that second-set skirmish, but never lost control of the match. Even when forced off the baseline, Radwanska played with the precision of a timepiece and haunted Kerber by the quickening pace of her footsteps.

The third-seeded Radwanska was often one step quicker and one shot better, winning five straight games to seize the opening set in a confident, 6-3, 6-4 victory to charge into her first Wimbledon final. The 2005 Wimbledon junior champion thrust her arms in the air and blew kisses to her family and friends after becoming the first Polish player to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the Open era.

"This is what I'm dreaming of since I was a kid," said Radwanska, smile still plastered firmly on face, in her post-match interview with the BBC. "I am playing tennis almost 18 years and everyone dreams of playing a final of a Grand Slam...I really played good today."

Contesting her first major semifinal, Radwanska played such clean tennis that you wondered if her strings were sprayed with disinfectant. Applying her all-court acumen to create open spaces, Radwanska hit 20 winners against only six unforced errors. Clearly, the third seed doesn't believe in littering the lawn: Radwanska has committed six or fewer errors in five of her six wins this fortnight.

Facing a foe who behaves like a moveable wall can drive even experienced players up the wall. Playing her second major semi, Kerber kept her cool. The left-hander broke her friend's serve at 30 when Radwanska missed a drop shot, then consolidated at 15 for a 3-1 first-set lead. Then Radwanska began to beat Kerber to the ball and stretch the court.

She first hit a forehand pass down the line and followed with a deep return that dipped inside the baseline to break back for 3-all. Radwanska then saved a break point with her signature shot—the backhand down the line—and drilled another return to break at 30 for 5-3. A slice serve and slick backhand volley winner brought Radwanska, who served 80 percent in the opening set, to set point. She sealed the 29-minute set in style, with an ace.

The eighth-seeded Kerber staged a fierce comeback to beat Sabine Lisicki in the quarterfinals and rallied again today. But Radwanska's anticipation is so prescient that sometimes she was moving to the spot before Kerber finished her follow-through. The cumulative effect of that court coverage took a toll, as Kerber netted a forehand to hand Radwanska the break and a 3-2 second set lead.

Surviving that suspenseful 16-shot rally, Radwanska saved break point later in the sixth game and held. Serving for history, Radwanska lost a 26-shot rally, the longest of the match, but battered Kerber's forehand to draw an error in what would be the final game.

Radwanska realized one childhood dream reaching the Wimbledon final; she can achieve another if she meets and beats Serena Williams there—the 23-year-old would wake up Monday as a Grand Slam champion and new world No. 1.

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