After Agnieszka Radwanska beat Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2 on Sunday to win the Rogers Cup title I posted on social media the article “Agnieszka Radwanska is the Smartest Tennis Player in Modern Women Tennis”. It was written two years ago but still attracts a lot of attention.
I received an interesting comment from Kevin Bruce from London and decided to published it. Read, discuss and share if you like it.
I very much agree with many of the points in the article. In today’s game there is so much emphasis on physical fitness, superior athleticism, and the need for big weapons to over-power the opponent. These have become the most dominant characteristics of the women’s tennis tour and has meant that tactical nous and creativity have often been relegated to secondary considerations. There are undoubtedly fewer exponents of these more artistic elements playing today compared to previous generations.
In their contrasting ways, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles all brought extra dimensions of physical power to the table but the rise of Venus and Serena Williams in the late ’90s pushed the athletic bar so high that, to a large extent, creativity has since often be nullified by overwhelming brute force. This has meant that tennis players have become less flexible in their approach and are less able to switch strategy in mid-match.
I don’t think the introduction of on-court coaching, which has become a feature of the women’s tour in the last few years, has helping to improve this situation since it creates too much reliance on outside advice from the coach and doesn’t prepare players adequately for the grand slams where coaches are not permitted to come onto court at any stage. Fortunately also no such practice is allowed anywhere in the men’s game.
Martina Hingis possessed exceptional ingenuity, guile and flexibility but it was well documented at the time the extent to which here greatest strengths were increasingly undermined year-after-year by her more heavyweight rivals. Despite an attempted comeback in 2006-07 she was never able to recapture former glories.
The diminutive Justine Henin realized she needed to undergo extensive off-court training in order to bulk up her frame sufficiently whereby she would be able to counter the punch of her taller and more naturally strong rivals. Nevertheless, despite considerable success and seven grand-slam titles that turned her into one of the sport’s all-time greats, her mind and body became so ravaged by the constant battering that she wasn’t able to absorb the punishment for much beyond her most fruitful campaign in 2007. She ended up being forced to retire from the sport (twice over) at a rather premature age.
It’s great to see Radwanska attempting to uphold the long tradition of lightweight champions but, as with Hingis and Henin before her, she remains a rare breed in an age where the ball is being struck harder and harder as each year passes. To reach number three in the world tennis rankings, as she has done, with no major physical artillery at her disposal but instead having to think her way around the court and outsmart more imposing specimens over the other side of the net remains a delightful sight and a privilege. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it’s an essential ingredient to the overall success of the women’s game in a sport that thrives on players of contrasting attributes. If she could land a major title it would help to strengthen the argument that there is still room at the top of the tree for those who have to rely on dexterity and surprise rather than raw power.
In defense of the current generation though it’s worth pointing out that Serena Williams has been the best player in the world for the last few years not simply because of her superior firepower, although this has been an enormous advantage. Under her new coaching regime, which came into operation following a disastrous 2012 French Open where she was bundled out in the first round, she has added other dimensions to her game notably improved shot flexibility. She has also remained consistently the strongest player on tour in terms of mental resilience followed next by one of her nearest challengers Maria Sharapova.