In a match that featured plenty of good, bad, and even some ugly—a wiff would have looked better than an overhead smash Agnieszka Radwanska framed beyond belief midway through the third set—Nadia Petrova had the most of the first adjective. The erratic Russian was exactly that in the Tokyo final, but she steadied herself by the end of her 6-0, 1-6, 6-3 win to collect her 12th WTA title and a sizable upset over the world No. 3.
Early on, simply everything was good for Petrova, who made every game torturous for Radwanska in a lopsided opening set. Petrova's shots, as you might expect, were finding their marks, but her returns were just as savagely effective: Radwanska lost her first eight second-serve points, most due to backhand swipes that left the Pole out of position from the start of the point—if it didn’t end right then and there. Petrova’s backhand was a noticeable shot in all respects, however, especially when she earned her third straight break with a two-hander from a semi-retreating position. No matter; it ended up in the perfect spot to the dismay of Radwanska, whose irritation grew throughout the match.
There may be only one difficult thing about winning a set 6-0: Finding a way to play the next set with the same focus and quality of play. Petrova, whose form could only slip, was unable to remain at her absurdly peak level, and Radwanska took full advantage in set two. But she did more than wait for unforced errors from Petrova—of which there were plenty—Radwanska improved her serving, mixing in first serves towards the body and hitting toward the Russian’s forehand side. As quickly as Petrova took the first set in shutout fashion, recalling her whitewashing of Kim Clijsters at the Aussie Open years ago, Radwanska leveled the contest and seemed poised to crack her fragile opponent. Not only were Petrova’s shots missing, but her footwork was suffering—as was her emotional state. When it goes bad for Petrova, it's best to turn away.
But if it was unrealistic to expect Petrova to reprise her near-flawless play of the first set, rekindling memories of it with a few shots seemed doable. And after a few holds from both women—a typical decider for players who’ve exchanged dominant sets—Petrova’s lethal backhand began to resurface. It’s a stroke that not only resulted in short-angled winners, but forced Radwanska well outside her preferred position on court.
Unable to dent Petrova’s service games, Radwanska played from behind throughout the third set, and was truly behind once a screaming cross-court backhand made the score 5-3 to the underdog. But even this advantageous position meant nothing; with Petrova, it’s always best to proceed with caution. The first act of her subsequent service game? A wayward toss. I was prepared to see a break, but Petrova surprised with three consecutive strong serves, and ended the match with a running forehand volley. It should not surprise you that her final swing was set up by a backhand, but that may have been the only thing conventional about Petrova’s play today, or this week, in Japan.