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.


Todd.Spiker said...

Was hoping you'd speak about her today. Although, I must say, it hasn't been a good run of late when it comes to some of your favorites, has it? Flavia, Roberta, Aga and maybe (officially) JJ soon, too. :(

Aga may be gone, but The Rad lives forever (in dreams... but mostly nightmares). ;)

Anonymous said...

"The Rad" was a memorable and entertaining meme for 2012-2015, but it also reeked of judgement about Radwanska's style of play. It's true she overcame many of her harder-hitting opponents by feeding off the errors that resulted when they started to doubt their game plans, but characterizing this as supernatural malevolence comes close to insinuating some kind of gamemanship or unsportsmanlike conduct. Would Sun Tzu deserve to be called a "junkball pusher" based on his tactics?

Diane said...

Yes, Todd, I’m expecting JJ’s announcement any time. I’m “ready” (as I’ll ever be).

Todd.Spiker said...

Well, since I came up with the whole "The Rad" thing, I can tell you that it was nothing of the kind. Quite the opposite, really. Early on in her career, Aga's game had left me wanting "more," as there was maybe a tinge of that still in the mix in 2012 when I wrote that first "Rad" post. But the birth of the "alter ego" was precisely when the admiration for her intelligence, shotmaking, artistic bent, an especially the nightmares she caused opponents took hold (and essentially spawned a creative way to have fun with it all). I'm not sure it was evident in the telling of the very first Rad appearance, but it certainly was after that.

Unknown said...

Enjoyed watching A.R. play, her shots were pure magic!

Diane said...

They were indeed.