Toronto: A. Radwanska d. Stephens

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Agnieszka Radwanska and Sloane Stephens have games that contrast handsomely, but any clash between them isn’t just about the American’s shotmaking skill matched against the Pole’s defensive talents. It’s also about whether Stephens’ familiar lapses of concentration will be more costly to her than unforced errors are to Radwanska.

Today in the Rogers Cup, Radwanska won that secret battle that takes place beneath the surface of those contrasting styles. The world No. 4 survived an entertaining struggle with the No. 14 seed, 6-1, 7-6 (2).

While Radwanska struck a nice balance between winners and unforced errors (20 and 21, respectively), Stephens’ own numbers skewed too heavily toward the negative side (18 winners to 37 unforced errors). Of course, with a player like Stephens, the error count is less important than the timing of those errors, and today she simply made too many at critical moments. She also converted just two of 11 break point opportunities.

The match was more entertaining and closer than the score might indicate, despite Stephens’ slow start. What the 6-1 first-set score doesn’t tell you is that, after Radwanska broke at the first opportunity and went up 3-0, Stephens very nearly leveled the match after her first hold for 1-3. In that fifth game, Stephens had four break points, three of which were dispatched by excellent Radwanska shots. It was the second and last of those missed break opportunities that hurt Stephens the most. 

Leading 30-40, Stephens flubbed an easy forehand approach placement after Radwanska’s previous shot skipped off the net cord. The game then went into overtime, and it ultimately took Radwanska a long time—four deuces worth—to hold. Apart from a few misfires, the crucial game contained a wonderful variety of shots and counter-thrusts. But Stephens lost it following a long, complex rally that Radwanska won to fend off the fourth break point. 

Dispirited, Stephens then fired off two glaring errors to allow Radwanska the hold. The hangover from losing that long game—perhaps even just that long, final break-point save by Radwanska—hurt Stephens. She lost concentration and in the blink of an eye, it seemed, it was 6-1 for Radwanska. 

See what I mean about the deception of the scoreboard?

To her credit, Stephens ralled strongly in the second set. She broke Radwanska in the second game, and while she couldn’t consolidate with a hold, she broke Radwanska again and then held with authority to build a 4-1 lead. 

The most critical game of the match was the next one.  Radwanska’s timing had gone south, and Stephens was in a groove. Stephens had three break points to take a commanding lead, but blew each opportunity with an error. Back in the hunt at 2-4, Radwanska broke Stephens—or, more accurately, Stephens broke herself; she threw in two costly double faults. Back on serve, the women rolled into the tiebreaker.

Stephens led off the tiebreaker with an excellent serve, but drilled a follow-up forehand into the net. She lost the second point as well, but recovered the mini-break. But Radwanska wouldn’t relinquish the slim lead and converted it into a 5-2 edge, with Stephens about to serve twice. Stephens failed to convert either serve; on match point she was outmaneuvered. Radwanska ran down a good Stephens forehand and returned an even better backhand down the line for the win.

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