This probably reads like Serena Williams' resume. In fact it's the start to the season of current world #4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who has taken the unorthodox route of eschewing the seed-heavy tournaments at the beginning of the year in favour of some more guaranteed trophy moments in the less well attended events.
|2 titles already for Radwanska this year|
That player was Li Na, who was also on an unbeaten run for 2013 having picked up tournament accolades in Shenzhen the week previously. Meeting at the semi-final stage the match was billed as a battle of the 100%-ers, but when it began, with a prolonged opening service game from the Chinese player, it was Radwanska who seized the initiative, breaking from the outset and maintaining the pressure to progress to the final comfortably 61 64, albeit needing 7 match points before she closed out the last game. Her victory stemmed from her consistent, but deeply patient gameplan, seeing her hit just 3 winners to Li Na's 28, but making only 15 unforced errors compare to the #4 seed's 40. It was a turnaround from 2012 when Li Na had dispatched the Pole in all three of their hard court meetings without the loss of a set.
In the final Radwanska was to meet a resurgent Dominika Cibulkova who, in addition to dispatching Kvitova and Errani from the competition, had the previous day dominated the decidedly flat-looking second seed Angelique Kerber, the German perhaps suffering from the sweltering Sydney heat - reportedly tipping 40 degrees at times. Playing some fast and precise tennis, the diminutive Slovak irked her semi-final opponent into some rushed strokes, before fistpumping her way to the final. Unfortunately, the Radwanska steadiness demolished the Slovak's chances, taking the match with the first double bagel of 2013 - 60 60. It was a dominant display that saw Radwanska absorb Cibulkova's superior firepower with her defensive sensibilities, and continually chase down one extra ball to frustrate her opponent into an error.
Whether the triumvirate at the top of the game will feel threatened going into the Australian Open by Radwanska's perfect display is still up for debate, they will perhaps register an increased awareness of her placing within the draw. For although the Pole is ranked #4 in the world and with 3 titles to her name in 2012 and 2 already for 2013, her Slam record is less impressive. Just a solitary final appearance sits above a myriad of lukewarm campaigns that have seen her consistently peak around the quarter or fourth round stage. Indeed, last year's Wimbledon final where she took Serena Williams to three sets, was as unexpected in its unfolding as it was for Radwanska's presence as Williams' opponent.
What is unarguable though, is that Radwanska is the highest ranked player in the WTA who has yet to lift a Grand Slam trophy, a position similar to that which Andy Murray had found himself in for a number of years in the ATP. However, while Murray's inadequacies were predominantly attributed to the three men above him who had dominated the tour for the past 5 years, Radwanska's may be better described as shortcomings within her style. Although the best at defensive play and with a solid returning game facilitated by perhaps the most tactically sound, chess-match mind in the WTA at the moment, if her opponent is able to raise their power game to a consistently precise level (Williams and Azarenka particularly), Radwanska is liable to crumble. Indeed, even outside of the top three should someone lower in the rankings such as Li Na, or Kvitova or even Stosur be playing with the effortless perfection that took them to their maiden Slam titles, Radwanska would also come out of the contest as the second best player.
Therefore, a better comparison for the Radwanska conundrum would be Caroline Wozniacki rather than Andy Murray. The Dane was frequently criticised for holding the #1 ranking for over a year, but with only 1 Slam final appearance and no Slam title to her name. Radwanska, who has been as high as #2 in the WTA rankings, has followed a similar biography, winning at Premier and Mandatory level, but never graduating to sustained success in the four majors. And although she may be the player with the best record in 2013, it is unlikely that she will be considered by too many to be the player to watch at the upcoming Australian Open. The goals for Radwanska's 2013 should be to progress beyond the quarter final at all of the four majors (in line with her ranking) and ultimately to win one of the titles. However, the latter is a tall ask considering the women above her, but it is an even taller ask if she fails to advance her game to a more aggressive level. Being able to beat 3 other top 10 players including 2 of those in the top 3 in succession during a tournament would rely on a series of lacklustre and out-of-character performances from her opponents, for at the moment, she may be able to win this way against one seed, but may not sustain it over the course of a full-strength tournament.
For Radwanska, a little bit of luck may be needed to see her through to her second Slam final and ultimately a major tournament trophy moment. And if the victory doesn't come within the year, she could stand to be the player on tour with the best record at the less-critical events, but ultimately as slamless as Caroline Wozniacki throughout 2013.