Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Petra crashes the Barty Party, Danielle Collins blows up the whole show, and Pliskova perfoms a magic trick

It had been seven years since Petra Kvitova had reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, and five years since she'd reached the semifinals of any major. Meanwhile, Ash Barty, with her inventive play and crack serve, has been entertaining the home crowd for over a week. But Barty's glorious run came to an end yesterday when she came face to face with Scary Petra.

Kvitova's straight set win over Barty was no surprise, considering how the Barking Czech has been playing in Melbourne (well, in Australia--she won the Sydney title). On the other hand, Kvitova is nothing if not unpredictable, and we never know when she's going to be done in by the weather, by illness, or by whatever goes on in her head sometimes. But, so far, so good. Really good.

Kvitova's first and second serve win percentages were 74 and 50, she won 71% of her net attempts, and converted three of five break points (Barty converted zero of three). The Czech star's reaction to winning such a huge match was emotionally driven, as one might expect, given her history. Her next opponent will be, of all people, Danielle Collins.

Collins, it's safe to say, has had the most unexpected run of anyone at the Australian Open. Prior to arriving in Melbourne, she had yet to win a main draw match at a major. In the opening round, she beat 14th seed Julia Goerges (a reality with which I'm still trying to come to terms). In the next round, she defeated Sachia Vickery, and in the third round, she took out 19th seed Caroline Garcia. But it was in the round of 16 that everyone was forced to pay attention, when the 25-year-old USA player totally dismantled the game of 2nd seed and 2016 champion Angie Kerber.

You can go back and re-watch that fourth round match and still not totally comprehend what happened. We're talking about Kerber, who runs down every ball, finds angles unknown to mere humans, and has a mean transition game. But against Collins, she never had a chance.

These things do happen from time to time, and it would be only routine to expect Collins to fall apart in her next match. And for the first set, she did. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova made easy work of Collins in the opening set, winning it 6-2. But even as I waited for the match to continue, there were thoughts lurking in my head. Thoughts like, "Collins isn't going to go down like a loser." And "Pavlyuchenkova can fade away faster than you can say 'Petra Kvitova,' and Collins knows it."

And sure enough, Collins made a steady comeback in the second set, winning it 7-5. Then she had momentum, and then, the Russian player went all Pavlyuchenkova and sort of disappeared. And that was that, as Collins won the set 6-1.

Thank goodness for Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who came onto the ESPN set to interpret Collins for the commentary gang. Mattek-Sands explained that Collins, who was a champion collegiate player (winning two NCAA singles titles and finishing 2016 as the top-ranked player in the nation), was doing the college tennis thing--yelling and fist-pumping and emoting all over the place. "I may not be for everyone," Collins had told Mattek-Sands, whose reply was "You're just getting this?!"

Collins, I'll note, has an undergraduate degree in business and a master's degree in media studies from the University of Virginia. She was the first UVA woman to win an NCAA singles title.

Quarterfinal play continued today as U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka took on Elina Svitolina. Osake took the first set 6-4, then began the second set with a 3-0 leave. Svitolina, who had problems with her neck in an earlier match, underwent medical treatment for it again in the second set.

The Ukrainian star, known for her fast legs and her clever defense, just couldn't get to many of the balls coming off of Osaka's racket. In the second set, she appeared sluggish, which--I assume--was related to her ongoing physical woes. Osaka won the match (she made it look easy)--which should have been quite competitive--6-2, 6-1.

Finally, seven-time champion Serena Williams played Karolina Pliskova for the last semifinal position. The Czech player made only five unforced errors in the first set, and had a first serve win percentage of 81. Breaking Williams once, Pliskova won that set 6-4. The second set went better for Williams. Serving at 4-5, Pliskova had multiple game points, all erased by Williams, who took the set 6-4 on her first set point.

Then Williams turned up the dial--the way she has so many times--and went up 5-1, only to be broken. She twisted her ankle, trying to get to a ball, and she committed a foot fault on a match point in the seventh game (and yes, Pam Shriver and the rest of you who want to make the rules "convenient"--a fault is a fault, regardless of when it's committed).

It should be noted that Pliskova continued to make very few errors throughout the third set. She won her next game, after breaking her opponent, so Williams served for the match again at 5-3, but was broken at love. Pliskova then saved three match points on her own serve, and held for 5-all, in what was a very gutsy performance. At that point, the usually stoic Czech bent over and let out a huge yell. She then followed that feat by breaking Williams at love.

Pliskova then served for the match and went up 40-0, only to have Williams bring the score to 30-40. But when Pliskova served on her third match point, she was able to convert it.

Williams wasn't the same after she twisted her ankle, though she didn't call for the trainer, which makes it hard to determine exactly what happened.

Being down 1-5 in the third set of a big match and then winning is dramatic. Being down 1-5 in a big match against Serena Williams and then winning is kind of hard to describe. Pliskova, discussing her third set, said "My mind was in the locker room--but I was still here."

Pliskova will play Osaka in the semifinals.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Australian Open quarterfinals set

The 2019 Australian Open quarterfinals will commence today when two surprise (and unseeded) quarterfinalists compete in Rod Laver Arena. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Danielle Collins very likely not the names we had listed as "possible quarterfinalists," but here they are. Pavlyuchenkova has chosen this tournament to show off the potential we've always known she has, while Collins has emerged more like a tennis bat out of hell (and I mean that in a good way), with her hard, flat hitting and her aggressive attitude.

I don't expect Collins to fade away because of the occasion, and at this point, I'm not even sure that Pavlyuchenkova will fade away. If they both bring their best games, it should be interesting. Collins bossed Angie Kerber around by not letting her in at all. Her Russian opponent, however, is likely to go for making Collins uncomfortable by not getting into rocket exchanges with her.

The night match (which, very sadly, I won't be able to watch) has the potential to be the match of the tournament. 8th seed Petra Kvitova will have her hands full with Ash Barty, who is showing herself to be something of a wonder, with her thoughtful tactics, impressive variety and superb serving. Kvitova can't "go off" in this one--at least, not for long. So far, the two-time Wimbledon champion has been deadly, but we all know that there is more than one Petra. Having a night match will help her because of the drop in temperature.

Tomorrow, the quarterfinals will feature 16th seed and seven-time champion Serena Williams taking on 7th seed Karolina Pliskova. The Long Tall One (or perhaps, the Tall Cool One) was deadly in her round of 16 match against Garbine Muguruza. She will have to bring that same deadliness against Williams, who defeated world number 1 Simona Halep yesterday. I think it's safe to say that this will be a match worth watching.

Finally, 4th seed Naomi Osaka will face off against 6th seed Elina Svitolina. Osaka now plays like a champion, finding ways to get back in when she's down, and doing it with finesse. Svitolina, on the other hand, is a woman on a mission, which makes her a bit scary. Again, this has the potential to be an excellent quarterfinal.

In doubles, top seeds and world number 1 doubles team Barbora Krcjcikova and Katerina Siniakova will play former doubles world number 1 Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai in today's action. In today's other quarterfinal, Barbora Strycova and Marketa Vondrousova compete against 5th seeds Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

Tomorrow, 7th seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Latisha Chan will play Jennifer Brady and Alison Riske, and Raquel Atawo and Katarina Srebotnik take on 2nd seeds Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic.

There are a lot of Czechs in the quarterfinals!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Curiouser and curiouser......

 Off with their heads!

As WTA fans, we're used to upsets, especially at majors. But sometimes, things become so topsy-turvy, we have to stop, take a deep breath, and say "what was that?" The 2019 Australian Open is one of those times.

Why, sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Last night, I took a short break from watching the Open so that I could relax with some hot suds. When I emerged, less than an hour later, 2nd seed and 2016 champion Angie Kerber had been blown out of the tournament by Danielle Collins. I had to look at the scoreboard several times. I suspected an illness or an injury. And then I learned what really happened--Collins simply walked onto the court with the full intention of obliterating the mighty Kerber. And then she did it--just like that. 

I watched the match this morning so that I could see for myself what happened. Interestingly, commentator Louise Pleming immediately gave a nod to Collins and hinted at a possible upset. In a word, Collins was--scary. She hit so flat, and she performed such seamless transitions, it's a wonder Kerber's head didn't spin.

It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards….

When I woke up this morning, I looked at the scoreboard and saw that Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was serving for the match against 5th seed Sloane Stephens. Yesterday, I wrote "We're accustomed to seeing Pavlyuchenkova pull off a big win, but not two in a row. The Russian's next opponent will be 5th seed Sloane Stephens; can she do it again?"

Theoretically, I thought she could, given Stephens' tendency to do "Sloaney" things at majors. But Pavlyuchenkova, the Queen of Inconsistency, pulling off a series of big wins in a single tournament? It didn't seem possible. But she did it, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3. The Russian, who was a teen star, has never been short on talent, but she has never had the kind of mental toughness and resolve that could make her an elite player. Now, at the age of 27--at least for now--Pavlyuchenkova looks like a real threat.

 You used to be much more…muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.

Ash Barty's defeat of Maria Sharapova wasn't an upset. An upset would have taken place if Sharapova had won. But a match is about more than seeding and ranking. What made Sharapova's loss especially painful was the fact that--in her third round victory over defending champion Caroline Wozniacki--she had looked like herself. She was the powerful, determined Maria who dictates almost every part of the match, but who also knows how to work the net. 

In the round of 16, that all fell apart. Sharapova's service woes returned to haunt her, and she experienced something of a meltdown after winning the first set. Barty easily won the second set, and dominated the first half of the third set, but then Maria the fighter showed up, changing the scoreline from 0-4 to 4-all. The set became very tense, and--against a different opponent--Sharapova could well have emerged the winner. But Barty--whose game is a marvelous combination of what I call "real" tennis and crack serving--was too tough in the end. 

I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.

It's easy to say that fans fell for the "hype" about Amanda Anisimova (I've already seen that on Twitter), but it isn't hype. Anisimova is the real thing if any young player is. She not only has exquisite tennis skills--she has poise one wouldn't expect from a 17-year-old. But when Good Petra (whom I prefer to call Real Petra) is in the house, no one stands a chance. And so far--fingers crossed--Real Petra Kvitova has been showing up with a vengeance in Melbourne. 

The Barking Czech hasn't dropped a set, and she's lost only 17 games in four rounds. She beat Anisimova 6-2, 6-1, which was undoubtedly quite a comedown for the teenager, but not a disaster. And not a surprise.

All quotations are from the works of Lewis Carroll.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Australian Open round of 16 looks tasty indeed

A quick demographic breakdown of the 2019 Australian Open round of 16:

  • The final 16 hold a total of 38 major singles titles (and yes, Serena holds 23 of those).
  • Five players--almost a third of the field--represent the USA.
  • Two other countries, the Czech Republic and Russia, have two players in the draw.
  • The age gap between the youngest player (Amanda Anisimova) and the oldest (Serena Williams) is 20 years.
  • Anisimova is the first player born in the 2000s to reach the fourth round of a major.

There are a couple of interesting phenomena in the round of 16 draw that are worth mentioning:

One, of course, is the appearance of Amanda Anisimova. In addition to being the youngest player in the top 100, and being the first player of her birth generation to go this far in a major, The very poised Anisimova has reached the round of 16 in a way that could hardly be called "easy."

In the first round, she defeated trickster Monica Niculescu (who has done some giant-killing in her day). In the second round, she upset 24th seed Lesia Tsurenko, who recently reached the Brisbane final. And for her next trick, Anisimova knocked off 11th seed Arnya Sabalenka with such ease and finesse that she made the highly-touted Belarusian look like a confused journeywoman.

Anisimova's next opponent is Petra Kvitova. If the Barking Czech continues to play the way she's been playing, the 17-year-old's Australian Open experience will be over, though Anisimova could certainly drag Kvitova into three sets. However, Kvitova--who always looks so good in Melbourne, and always gets our  hopes up--has made it past the third round for the first time in four years (she was absent in 2017), and it's been seven years since she's reached the semifinals. If "Bad Petra" shows up on court, Anisimova would certainly have the nerve to send her home.

Another phenomenon of the draw is the appearance of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a gifted player who occasionally pops up to remind us that--well, that she's a gifted player. Even more noteworthy is that the Russian had to win two rather difficult matches--against 9th seed Kiki Bertens and the dangerous Aliaksandra Sasnovich--in order to reach the round of 16. We're accustomed to seeing Pavlyuchenkova pull off a big win, but not two in a row. The Russian's next opponent will be 5th seed Sloane Stephens; can she do it again?

For those who like more poetic pairings--world number 1 Simona Halep will face seven-time champion Serena Williams in the round of 16. 

Two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza will face Karolina Pliskova in an "anything can happen" match. Pliskova has been looking pretty solid, while Muguruza tends to be about as predictable as Kviotva--just when you think she's on a roll, she crashes. But--sometimes, when you think she's about to crash--she crushes.

I'm looking forward to watching the clever, adaptable Ash Barty compete against Maria Sharapova. Sharapova found her mojo at this tournament, which is a joy to see, but she'll have her hands full with Barty. Naomi Osaka will take on Anastasija Sevastova, who is pretty clever in her own right. Danielle Collins faces off against 2016 champion Angie Kerber (who is operating so oddly under the radar), and Madison Keys will play Elina Svitolina.

Svitolina, despite suffering with a neck problem throughout her difficult three-hour third round match, gutted her way to the round of 16. It was an impressive win against a very good opponent, but the 6th seed's fortunes hang on whether she can get sufficident treatment for her neck injury.

Here is the round of 16 draw:

Simona Helep (1) vs. Serena Williams (16)
Garbine Muguruza (18) vs. Karolina Pliskova (7)
Naomi Osaka (4) vs. Anastasija Sevastova (13)
Madison Keys (17) vs. Elina Svitolina (6)
Petra Kvitova (8) vs. Amanda Anisimova
Ashleigh Barty (15) vs. Maria Sharapova (30)
Sloane Stephens (5) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Danielle Collins vs. Angelique Kerber (2)

Monday, January 7, 2019

Who will win the Australian Open? Some have a better chance than others (I think)

The first major of the year may be the hardest for which we can attempt to predict a champion. There are all those holdover injuries and slumps, but also all of those holdover good feelings and gains in confidence. The WTA tour is nothing if not unpredictable, though, and she who was slumping could end up doing well, while she who was winning may be struck with the fear of both expectation and success.

There are, of course, a few women who "should" win the Autralian Open, but who are probably more contenders on paper rather than in reality. That list includes (sadly) Petra Kvitova and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.

Some might put 2018 runner-up Simona Halep on the list, but I think of her more as a real contender. Despite having no coach, Halep has her game plus some new confidence that she'll bring to the season's first major. The world number 1 has reportedly recovered from a back injury that took her out of the 2018 WTA Finals. Assuming that recovery is authentic, I like the Romanian's chances to make a deep run.

I also like Karolina Pliskova's chances. The Brisbane champion, coached by Aussie Rennae Stubbs (who will radiate all kinds of Aussie good vibes for the Long Tall One), didn't come through with the big title that many thought she would grab last season, but there's every reason to believe that she's close to doing just that.

It goes without saying that one should never, ever count out Serena Williams, and--considering that she's still a woman on a mission--there's every reason to believe that Williams can lift her eighth (!) Australian Open trophy.

I'm also looking at 2016 champion Angie Kerber, who did some very fancy playing at this year's Hopman Cup. It's going to be very hard to beat Kerber in Melbourne, and her draw interests me possibly more than anyone's.

Elina Svitolina is also poised to do something big. Yes, she (as top seed and defending champion) went out in the second round in Brisbane, but it wasn't exactly a routine loss; her opponent came at her gangbusters style. Svitlolina, in her careful, plodding way, may get to just semis at majors this year, but she could also win one, and why not the Australian Open?

And finally, as irrational as it may sound, I toss in the name Garbine Muguruza. We all know that the mercurial Spaniard could go out in he first round. She could also win the whole thing--such is the "success range" of the tour's official Mystery Woman. Muguruza sometimes has a hard time "feeling it," but when she does feel it, she plays some of the most beautifully fluid tennis you'll see anywhere, any time. Like Petra Kvitova, the world number 18 (!) has everything it takes to win everything there is, but she often just isn't up to the task.

Expect multiple upsets. That's because the tour is now brimming over with young players (and a few suddenly-dangerous veterans) who can make life miserable for higher-ranked, and even elite, players. I won't name them--the list is too long--but they will shape the draw in Melbourne, and heads will roll.

Players who could make a deep run include Auckland champion Julia Goerges, Arnya Sabalenka, Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, maybe Kiki Bertens, and a few of those red-hot younger players and veterans who may be able to pull multiple upsets. (Sabalenka is one of those younger players, but I put her in a more "certain" category because of her court mentality.)

The doubles draw should be equally unpredictable, as new teams emerge as elite, and as team members are shuffled around.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

2918--just another head-spinning WTA season

It was quite a year for the WTA. Serena Williams returned, there was a Serena Williams controversy, a top player finally reached one of her long-held and elusive goals, and we lost two of the greats. It was an excellent year for veterans, but a new star was born, also. Our world number 1 provided the consistency we've come to expect from her, along with a nice bonus. And  the Czechs, as always, put everyone in her place.

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 occurrences of the year:

10.: You won’t like me when I’m angry
: Li Na once said, “Anger is stronger than sorrow, and anger can keep you from collapsing.” Sometimes anger is fuel. It certainly was for Elina Svitolina. One of the most successful players on the tour, the Ukrainian star picks up titles—and even defends them—but tends to fold in majors. At the start of every major, fans and members of the media tend to say, “Okay, this is the time when she’ll do it.” But then, it doesn’t happen.

This year, Svitolina lost a lost of weight in order to have a different frame, and there was a lot of buzz about that. Clearly annoyed, Svitolina arrived at the WTA Finals ready to rumble. She went undefeated in round robin play, then won the whole thing. I think there’s a good chance that she may “pull a Mauresmo” and take home a very big trophy in 2019.

9. Resiliance defined: Serena Williams sometimes goes away for a while, and sometimes for very serious reasons. But she always comes back. This time, she went away for a joyful reason: she gave birth to her daughter. Williams began her maternity leave in April of 2017, after having won the Australian Open while she was two months pregnant. She returned to the tour in the spring of 2018, and made it to the fourth round of the French Open, but then had to withdraw because of an injury. Her emphatic “I’m back!” statement came at Wimbledon, when she made it to the final, as she so often does. In this case, she lost the title to Angelique Kerber.

Williams also made a run to the final at the U.S. Open, where she lost the title to Naomi Osaka in a match that was fraught with tension and whose drama wound up overshadowing Osaka’s victory. 2018 was not an especially easy year for the former world number 1, yet she managed to play in two major finals. Resiliant indeed.

8. Pojd!: They did it again! The Czech Republic won Fed Cup for the sixth time in eight years, defeating defending champion Team USA. And they did it without Petra Kvitova, without Karolina Pliskova, and without Lucie Safarova. Because that’s the kind of team they have. Barbora Strycova, a veteran of Fed Cup battles, made a big contribution, but it was Katerina Siniakova who won both her singles rubbers and brought the team over the line.

7. Patience is a virtue: No one has more stamina than Caroline Wozniacki. She has enormous physical stamina, but she also has enormous mental stamina. She has been number 1 in the world, and she reached the final at the U.S. Open in 2009 and 2014. A threat in almost every tournament, Wozniacki just wasn’t able to grab one of those really huge prizes. But she began 2018 in the best way possible: Wozniacki won the Australian Open. The 28-year-old marathon-running Dane could have a very nice 2019.

6. Czechs go with everything: In 2013, after they won the junior U.S. Open doubles title, Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova entertained the crowd with a spirited, wonderful dance. Now, five years later, they have a lot to dance about—they are the number 1 doubles team in the world. The Czech duo won both the French Open and Wimbledon. The only problem is that—with all the reasons they have to celebrate, they haven’t danced again! Come on, ladies—entertain us!

5. Grazie—for so much
: Francesca Schiavone—one of the four legendary Fighting Italians who once dominated Fed Cup, and who constantly did amazing things on the tour—retired this year. Schiavone, who won the French Open in 2010 and was the runner-up in 2011, was a master stylist, especially on a clay court (though she could hold her own on every surface). The essence of what we call “heart” in sports, the Italian star put everything she had into every shot she made. Her positive attitude and fighting spirit were infectious,

4. The kids are still alright—and they’re coming to get you: In 2017, it was Alona Ostapenko who broke through in a big way and surprised many by winning the French Open. This year, it was Naomi Osaka. The young Japanese star has shown a lot of promise for the past couple of years, and—while she struggled to handle the sudden fame of winning Indian Wells—Osaka showed the world that she could handle just about everything by the time she got to Flushing Meadows.

At the U.S. Open, Osaka had to get past such formidable opponents as Arnya Sabalenka and 2017 finalist Madison Keys before she could face the player who is generally considered the ultimate test—six-time champion Serena Williams. Osaka beat Williams, her idol, in straight sets. With two big wins in 2018, there’s every reason to believe that Naomi Osaka is a force with which the tour will have to reckon.

3. Slump? What slump?: Angie Kerber had a dream 2016, winning the Australian Open and the U.S. Open, getting to the final at Wimbledon, and bringing home a silver medal from the Olympic Games. 2017, however, was mostly a year of trouble for the German player. But 2018 saw her come back strong, and in the summer, she won Wimbledon, defeating Serena Williams in the final. Kerber is now one French Open shy of achieving a Career Slam.

2. The magic is gone: Some call her The Ninja. Some call her The Magician. Some just call her Aga. Agnieszka Radwanska, the greatest shot-maker I’ve ever seen, retired from professional tennis at the end of this season. Unable to get past a long-term injury, the Polish wonder, at age 29, has left the tour, but the mark she made is unforgettable. Highlight reels come and go, but what Radwanska was able to do on a tennis court will entertain and produce awe for as long as tennis is a reality. Consistent winner of both the Shot of the Year designation and the Fan Favorite award, Radwanska was in a class of her own, as an athlete and a stylist.

1. Romanian rhapsody: World number 1 Simona Halep began her year in a big way—by reaching the final of the Australian Open. That didn’t turn out how she wanted it to—she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. But it was the farthest she had ever gone in the Australian Open draw, and a nice preamble to what was next: Halep (finally) won the French Open, defeating Sloane Stephens in the final. Halep lost the Roland Garros final in 2012 to Maria Sharapova, and she lost it again in 2017 to the force of nature known as Alona Ostapenko.

But this time, she did it. This was Halep’s first major victory, and she ended the year as the world number 1 for the second  year in a row; the Romanian’s indefatigible resolve paid off for her. Her coach, Darren Cahill, is taking a year off in 2019, and Halep is also dealing with a back injury (she had to withdraw from the WTA Finals) so her progress may slow down for a while, but her resolve won’t.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Aga Radwanska retires, and tennis will never be the same

I began watching women’s professional tennis when I was a very young woman, and—except for taking some occasional breaks from viewing—I’ve followed women’s tennis my entire life. I’ve seen some splendid shot-makers, too, but none with as much style, variety, cleverness, and jaw-dropping athletic trickery as the great Agnieszka Radwanska.

I would rather watch Radwanska than any other player, past or present. It is therefore with a distinct sadness that I acknowledge that The Ninja, as she was so aptly nicknamed by the WTA’s Courtney Nguyen, has retired from professional tennis.

There will never, ever be another Ninja. Radwanska’s remarkable ability to not only run down balls that other players would not be able to reach, was only part of her genius. Once she got to those balls—despite often being in an awkward position on the court—she could then hit shots that left fans gasping and opponents either applauding or standing with stunned looks on their faces. And she frequently found angles and hit drop shots that drove her opponents crazy.

Fans and commentators often called Radwanska The Magician, and the name was well deserved. Following are some prime examples of how Aga did what she did.

2015 Singapore hot shots:

The Ninja flummoxes Kirsten Flipkens in Miami:

She does this to Dominika Cibulkova:

She plays Barbora Strycova and gazes into a spooky mirror:

And then there was the 2014 Australian Open, in which Radwanska defeated two-time champion Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 5-7, 6-0. Someone, I forget who, called the final set "the best set of tennis ever played by a woman," and it may well have been just that. In the third set of their quarterfinal match, the Polish star tossed every trick she knew--and some new ones--at Azarenka. I recall gasping with wonder throughout the set:

Of course, no collection of Radwanska videos would be complete without this:

Aga Radwanska was an intelligent, very funny, and highly creative member of the WTA Tour. For five years straight, she was the Fan Favorite of the Year--no surprise, for she was consistently entertaining and athletically stunning. Not surprisingly, she also won every WTA Shot of the Year award.

In 2012, I was in Charleston, at Family Circle Cup qualifying. I went to the bar to watch the Miami final on television; Radwanska was playing Maria Sharapova. Radwanska, doing all the things she does best, beat Sharapova 7-5, 6-4.

It was really something. Later, I went back to my hotel room to blog and relax, looked at one of my very favorite sites, WTA Backspin, and discovered that Todd Spiker (The Backspinner) had already written about the match. His post remains the most hilarious piece of tennis writing I've ever seen.

For some of us, Radwanska's name took on yet another meaning. The Radwanska became the official evil entity whose presence wreaked havoc on both tours. There was even a Radwanskian Threat Level Chart that helped us negotiate the scarier parts of majors, and--of course--there was the Radwanskian Massacre that occurred at Wimbledon in 2013. Sometimes, when there's chaos in my own life, I look over my shoulder and wonder if I'll see The Rad, as we came to call "it."

Agnieszka Radwanska won 20 WTA singles titles, including the 2015 WTA Finals. She also won two doubles titles. Radwanska's highest singles ranking was number 2 in the world, which she achieved in 2009. Twice, she reached the Australian Open semifinals, and in 2012, she was the Wimbledon runner-up (defeated in the final by Sharapova). Though she had periods when her first serve was quite reliable, her second serve remained a weakness throughout her career, and undoubtedly cost her some success.

But Radwanska's success cannot be measured solely by her tennis resume, though that is quite impressive. What made her stand out was her athleticism, her creativity (the "Radwanska squat shot" is now part of the tennis repertoire for those who dare to use it), and her ability to think (and run) fast on any court. For those of us who prefer to focus on the art of tennis rather than some of the other factors, Aga was--on her own--a reason to watch the sport. But she was also a reason to watch for those who cared about watching someone stretch the boundaries of athleticism.

When the body and the brain come together in perfect symmetry, the result is a thing of wonder. On a tennis court, for thirteen years, that thing of wonder was called Aga Radwanska.