ISTANBUL—It was obvious during the first three points of this semifinal that Agnieszka Radwanska had little left in her legs after her three-hour-and-29-minute win over Sara Errani the evening prior. The Pole, who is one of the fastest players on tour, was very slow off the mark and dragging her body sideways.
She struck her first ball against Serena Williams just after 3 PM, only 19 hours after her stirring win over Errani. After her 6-2, 6-1 loss, Radwanska said she really needed a day off—48 hours before the Errani match, she had lost a three-plus hour match to Maria Sharapova.
“I think she’s more fresh than I am right now,” Radwanska said of Serena, who had a day off and hasn’t dropped a set in the tournament.
Clearly, that was an understatement, as the Pole’s admirable, understated game rapidly became exposed, what with it highly dependent on quick movement in order to be successful. Radwanska has to gradually construct points, and when she’s a half a step slow against the world’s most feared ball striker, the foundation of her game collapses before she can put the building blocks in place.
Early on the first set, the two engaged in a rapid-fire, Aga-esque touch point around the net that ended when Radwanska neatly hit the ball behind Williams. Some of the eight or so Polish journalists who came to Istanbul to write about their country’s best-ever player stood and loudly cheered, but that would be the last time they would do so with any realistic hope that Radwanska could pull off an upset.
Serena proceeded to go on one of famous runs, gunning aces, nailing return winners, constantly moving forward, and crunching overheads. She also showed off some deft touch herself, breaking to 5-2 when, after a long backhand cross-court exchange, she took her left hand off her racket and caressed a sweet backhand drop shot that Radwanska didn’t even bother to run for. While Radwanska grew slower and slower, Serena won the first set with a forehand swing volley, and won the match with an outright forehand return winner followed up by a clean backhand return winner, as if to show she could do it from both sides. The American finished the contest with 39 winners and 17 unforced errors and was 13 of 14 on her net approaches, statistics that might put a bit of scare into either Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova, one of whom she’ll play in the final.
Radwanska will end her season ranked a very respectable No. 4, four spots better than she finished in 2011. She reached her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and won three titles, including Miami.
While men’s tennis clearly has established a Big Four over the past two years, the women were not as defined in 2011. But this year, with Azarenka, Sharapova, and Serena combining to scoop up the four Grand Slam titles, the three Olympic singles medals, and—along with Radwanska—combining to win the four Premier Mandatory tournaments (Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, and Beijing), plus one of them being assured to win the WTA Championships, it could be argued that the women had their own Big Four in 2012.
However, just like Andy Murray was before he won the U.S. Open, Radwanska will remain on the outside looking in that category until she wins her first major. If this counterpuncher’s week at the WTA Championships proved anything, it’s that if Radwanska is to break through in 2013, she is going to have to have fresh legs and need at least one day off in between marathon matches.