The surface in Istanbul this year, we’ve been told, is slower and grittier than it was in 2011. This fact could be used to explain why Petra Kvitova, who went 5-0 at this event last year, lost 6-3, 6-2 today to Agniezska Radwanska, a player who had never beaten her before. But how much does the speed of the surface matter when you can’t hit the ball inside the court in the first place? This was a loss that was primarily of Kvitova’s making, and there’s only one stat you need to know from it: Petra committed 41 unforced errors in 17 games; Aga made five.
Of course, Radwanska also had a say in her surprise victory. Asked beforehand what she needed to do to improve on her loss to Kvitova in Istanbul last year, she said, “Win more games, more sets.” If that sounds a tad obvious, it was clear early that Radwanska had a plan to make it happen: Get her bigger, slower opponent moving. She wasn’t going to do that by out-hitting Kvitova, so she went the subtler route. She angled the ball into the alleys and hit drop shots from odd positions—Aga usually comes up with something new and creative; this time is was the surprise drop shot from her shoe tops, which forced Kvitova into a cat and mouse game that she was destined to lose. Radwanska also varied her return position and took the ball earlier on second serves. The key point came with Kvitova serving at 3-4 in the first set, down break point; the Czech, after a terrible start, has settled down and looked ready to make it a match. On a second serve, Radwanska stepped forward for her return and sent a backhand crosscourt that pushed Kvitova into the alley. Rather than getting the ball safely back into play, Kvitova went for a crosscourt winner from a defensive position and put the ball into the net. If any moment summed up this match, and the difference between these two players, it was that one.
Radwanska is now 1-3 against Kvitova, and she’s off to a good start in Istanbul, better than most of us predicted. But we shouldn’t be all that surprised; despite her bad record against the Czech, Aga’s craft was destined to expose Kvitova’s poor movement and decision-making at some point. Maybe this grittier surface will help Radwanska. If she makes just five unforced errors in two sets, and throws in a few more drop shots from her shoe tops, she’s going to be tough to beat.