Long before zombies became the TV stars of choice for so many viewers, tennis has loved them. Give me a player who has survived a match point to win and I’ll give you a dangerous contender brimful of new life.
Agnieszka Radwanska proved the theory once again today. In the second round some days ago, Radwanska survived three match points to win over former French and U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Today, she put down a spirited challenge by 20-year old qualifier Caroline Garcia of France to advance with an artful 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win that took two hours and 17 minutes to complete.
Garcia came into this match seemingly poised to fulfill the promise that almost three years ago led Andy Murray to tweet that she was a future WTA No. 1. In the interim, Garcia stalled and had trouble finishing in both the small and large senses (she’s won just one ITF title for all the time she’s spent laboring in below-tour level matches). But if today was any indication, she may be poised to break out and take her place among the Top 20 players — or better — before the summer of tennis is over.
The women exchanged breaks early in the first set and were knotted at three games apiece when they found themselves in a standoff. In that seventh game, Radwanska had a grand total of eight break points, but Garcia staved seven of them off with a combination of powerful serving and some of the composure she’s undoubtedly developed in the course of this productive year: She’s already bagged a main-tour title in Bogota.
Time and again Garcia was able to fend off the gentle probings and pushings of Radwanska, but the No. 3 seed finally broke through on the eighth break point with an inside-out forehand winner followed by an excellent serve return that Garcia muffed on the forehand side. Garcia wouldn’t back off, though. So Radwanska felt obliged to take a few more chances with her serve, and they paid off with a few service winners. But at deuce she double-faulted. Undeterred, she then hit an excellent serve wide to Garcia’s backhand. Garcia made a good return cross-court and sprinted to defend the open court, but in a signature clever move Radwanska jabbed a precise cross-court backhand to wrong-foot Garcia.
Radwanska took the ad with yet another service winner, and she locked up the game — and a 5-3 lead — when Garcia smacked a backhand service return wide. Garcia showed excellent nerves in holding her next game, but she was powerless to stop Radwanska from serving out the set in routine manner. In the set, Garcia hit eight winners to Radwanska’s seven, but she made 15 unforced errors to just eight by Radwanska.
The women picked up right where they left off at the start of the second set — two breaks left the score at 2-all, after which Garcia found herself in a bit of a jam in the fifth game. Radwanska’s defense and ability to force Garcia to repeatedly hit that one more shot seemed to be paying off.
After Garcia jumped out to a 40-love lead, Radwanska won the next two points. During the next point, Garcia smacked a hybrid smash-drive volley cross-court with her forehand — only to find Radwanska waiting to block the atomic shot back down the line with her backhand. That made it deuce, and a moment later Radwanska had break point. She failed to convert it, but got the break after another deuce when she changed the pace and hit a slice backhand that Garcia over-eagerly drove into the net.
With that 3-2 lead and serve, Radwanska seemed safe. But Garcia experienced no letdown. She broke right back, and the next few games were played on her terms. Although Radwanska threw plenty of her usual clattering, shining, bobbing junk at her, Garcia handled it all very well. She continued to dictate and, after surviving a close game to take a 5-4 lead, she pinned Radwanska down to a 15-40 deficit.Garcia saw one break point slip away when Radwanska hit an inside out forehand winner, but she responded in kind on the next break point to take the second set.
Radwanska responded with veteran savvy, quickly breaking Garcia to start the third set. From that point on, Radwanska’s defense only improved. It had to, because Garcia remained committed. She continued to play aggressively, and each time Radwanska threatened to break the match open Garcia responded by tightening up her game.
Radwanska held onto that slim one-break lead all the way to 4-3, at which point she was forced to play a terrific game relying on all her wiles (starting with the serve to the body) to hold for 5-3. When she forged ahead 0-30 on Garcia’s serve in the next game, it appeared that the end would come quickly.
Yet again, though, Garcia maintained her poise, even though Radwanska would hold a match point in that long game. Garcia wiped away that terminal threat when she stepped into the court and powdered a Radwanska return for an inside-out forehand winner. Garcia went on to hold and stay within whisper distance at 4-5.
However, Garcia was unable to get traction in the 10th game, thanks mainly to the crisp and steady play of Radwanska. She reached match point with no great drama and won it when Garcia pegged a backhand cross-court service return outside the sideline.
You know how it is with zombies; they’re awfully tough to kill.