NEW YORK—One of the most common adjectives seen before Agnieszka Radwanska’s name is “crafty,” and it’s been written more than ever this year, one in which the 23-year-old won the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, reached the Wimbledon final, and ascended to the No. 2 world ranking.
Crafty could also describe Vinci, another player whose game is based on precision and placement instead of baseline power. But not all craftiness is created equal, as we saw in plain sight and on the scoreboard. At the end of this fourth-rounder between Vinci and Radwanska, it read 6-1, 6-4 to the 20th-seeded Italian.
Vinci’s slice backhand, her signature shot, may have never looked better. She cuts the ball with such command that it recalls Feliciano Lopez, but without the Spaniard’s booming serve, Vinci relies on the shot even more. That was just fine today, as Radwanska was tormented Vinci's constant changes of spin and depth; the shot single-handedly kept the second seed out of her comfort zone, both on serve and when returning.
The versatility of Vinci’s slice was at its peak after Radwanska had already buried herself in a double-break hole to start the match. After a love hold punctuated by an ace, Vinci showed off all of the shots’ powers: She drew Radwanska into net with it; approached the net after hitting one; and struck a return winner that didn't land beyond the service box. Each of these three shots came on different points, and each one ended in Vinci’s favor (the return winner was a carved thing of beauty, not unlike a Thanksgiving turkey, that completely fooled Radwanska). In short, Vinci’s slice is delicate, but a weapon.
This was not Radwanska’s finest 76 minutes, the time it took to complete the match. While she couldn’t control when Vinci chose to bring the game to the net, she had control of her own replies, but didn’t do enough with them. Radwanska went just 1 of 6 at net, and looked particularly comfortable on her volleys. She was passed regularly, and was unable to make Vinci pay at net, where she went a stout 21 for 30. But it was an all-court nightmare for Radwanska, who committed 20 unforced errors, an albatross for a player who regularly gets through matches in the low single digits.
Fittingly, it was not a forceful forehand return that wrapped up the match for Vinci—though she tried to end it that way, on her first match point—but a winner emanating from a slice. Once again, Radwanska was drawn forward; once again, she watched a ball pass her by, the final of Vinci’s 29 winners. It sent her to the sideline in tears, and into her first Grand Slam singles quarterfinal, where she’ll play doubles partner and best friend, Sara Errani.