By Jane Voigt
July 2, 2013 — Power tennis won’t disappear, but crafty versatility on the lawns of Wimbledon made a loud statement today in the women’s quarterfinals.
Case A — Agnieszka Radwanska. The four seed is the consistent and annoying player at your local club that returns everything and places the ball well. She doesn’t have tons of power, yet possesses foot speed and anticipation along with a court bag full of tricks.
“She’s respected but not loved,” Pam Shriver said about Radwanska, calling the match for ESPN3.
She can throw off an opponent, though. Drops shots. Loopy lobs. Slow serves. Angled volleys. Radwanska has the entire package of deception in a game of hitting, hitting, hitting. And it’s fun to watch.
Radwanska, who is five-eight and weighs a bit over 120 pounds, forced Li Na to change, to immediately come up with something better, to move outside the defined space of her game. ‘Aga’ made Li doubt herself during that assignment.
Aga makes all her opponents doubt themselves because she plays such an unfamiliar style of tennis, which they cannot allow themselves to slip into. Just ask Serena Williams.
She faced Radwanska in last year’s final. Williams, one of the two women (sister Venus the other) to script power tennis, was lulled into Aga’s web. The American lost a set as she fended off junk from Aga’s Babolat Pure Drive Lite until she straightened out her priorities and pulled her head back to her side of the court. Radwanska doesn’t even use a heavy stick. Why? Her’s maneuvers easier.
Pundits call Aga’s tennis crafty, versatile, everything but the kitchen sink, etc. Her serve is not an asset, though. At one point it dipped to 62 m.p.h. You would think Li would have smacked the fuzz right off the ball. She did once or twice and hit winners. But not enough. Tilt your racquet face a micro centimeter one way or another during that speedy stroke and watch it go right where you don’t want it to go … out, bottom of the net, into the audience.
But Li Na fought. She let loose her power game, breaking to serve for the first set at 5-4. Her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, has shaped the most recognized woman in China into a resilient opponent. But, she could not string together points or momentum enough without throwing in nagging errors. She lost the set in a tiebreak, after having four set points.
Li, though, countered with an emphatic display of classic current-day tennis in the second set. Her offense outdid Radwanska’s defense. Li converted all break points, and improved on her serve.
The single-mindedness of both women turned points into theatre, as two rain delays interrupted the match. It was the best of today’s matches and ran just under three hours.
In the final set, Radwanska broke in the first game and clawed her way to 5-1. The last game brought out the beast in Li. On the 8th match point, though, Radwanska did it.
But she did not leave the court unscathed. Her legs were strapped so heavily one BBC TV reporter remarked, “From the bottom half you look like a mummy.” She has two days to recover before the semifinal against the Serena Slayer Sabine Lisicki. She extended her reach, defeating Kaia Kanepi 63 63.
Their semifinal will be yet another episode in speaking truth to power.
Case B — Kirsten Flipkens, is the most unlikely name in the semifinals. She defeated the 2011 Wimbledon Champion, Petra Kvitova, in their quarterfinal encounter, 46 63 64.
In 2012, Flipkens was ranked so low (262) she could not get in the qualification tournament at Wimbledon. This year, she is seeded No. 20 and into the semifinals of her first Slam.
There’s more … Just over a year ago, she was diagnosed with life-threatening blood clots in both legs.
“It’s amazing, it’s more than a dream come true to be in the semifinals of a Grand Slam, it’s ridiculous,” The Washington Post reported from Flipkens. “Last year I did not even get into the qualifying. I was 262 in the world and today I am in the semifinals of Wimbledon. I cannot be better. I still cannot believe it. I am so happy I cannot imaging myself waking up.”
Flipkens is a Belgian Radwanska. The Pole earned 18 unforced in her match while Flipkens shaved her’s down to five. She broke the powerful lefty Kvitova to serve for the match 5-4, and topped off the game with a match-winning ace. And like Lisicki yesterday, Flipkens did a belly flop on the grass.
Her perspective on tennis and on her career has been tempered through the agony of injuries and rehabilitations. She knows perseverance intimately.
“I think winning or losing a tennis match doesn’t make a big difference,” wrote The Washington Post. “I mean, if you lose, you have a next tournament next week. So, I just start to see things in perspective.”
Flipkens trains with the one of the most famous tennis players in Belgium … Kim Clijsters. Justine Henin, the other great from Belgium, was the last woman from that country to reach a Wimbledon semifinal in 2007. She lost to Marion Bartoli. Flipkens will also play Marion Bartoli in Thursday’s semifinal.
Bartoli defeated Sloane Stephens 64 75.