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Agnieska Radwanska vs Aryna Sabalenka WTA Eastbourne Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Radwanska seeks first WTA final in 18 months

Leye Aduloju in WTA Tour 28 Jun 2018
  • Agnieszka Radwasnka vs Aryna Sabalenka is live from Eastbourne on Friday, 29 June from 11:00 local time/BST
  • First ever meeting between Radwanska and Sabalenka
Agnieszka Radwanska. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Agnieszka Radwanska seeks her first final since January 2017 when she takes on Belarusian, Aryna Sabalenka at the Nature Valley Open on Friday.

It’s been a surprising run for former Wimbledon finalist, Radwanska, who had missed the last two months nursing back and hip injuries, but her grass-court nous has once again come to the fore this week at Eastbourne, where she has taken down some of the biggest hitters in the sport, including Timea Babos, and the explosive Jelena Ostapenko on her way to the last four. If she is to continue her unforeseen progress at Eastbourne, she will have to beat another one of those big-hitters on Friday, with Sabalenka standing across the net.

Ostapenko was the first to strike in Thursday’s quarter final, breaking the Radwanska serve for a 2-1 lead, but the Pole’s remarkable consistency took over from there, as she reeled off five games in a row to take the opening set. A roller-coaster second set saw the see-sawing Ostapenko battle back from 2-4 down to earn a chance to serve for the set at 5-4, but the Latvian lost her radar again to gift Radwanska a service break. The former Wimbledon champion accepted the offer with glee, cleaning up the match with three straight games to advance to her first semi-final since August 2017.

A former top-ten mainstay, Radwanska has slid to No 31 in the world rankings following an extended spell of loss of form and injuries in the last couple of seasons. The 29-year-old was ranked No. 3 at the start of 2017, but she was down at 28 by the end of the season- ending a year outside the top ten for the first time since 2010. Prior to Eastbourne, she hadn’t had any real impact on this season, with her previous best results being quarter finals in Auckland and Sydney. She also made the third round at the Australian Open and Miami. She suffered her latest injury setback in her clay-court opener in Istanbul, where a back injury forced her to retire from the opening round against Donna Vekic. A subsequent hip complaint meant she missed the rest of the clay-court season, but she has made a relatively triumphant return to action on the grass courts of Eastbourne. Radwanska eased past Timea Babos for the loss of just four games in the opening round, before outlasting Daria Gavrilova 5-7 7-6 6-0 after saving two match points in the second round. The Pole had a bit of luck when the in-form Petra Kvitova withdrew from their Round of 16 meeting, but she made the most of it, taking down Ostapenko in the last eight.

Can she keep it going when she plays Sabalenka in the semi-finals?

"I took only three dresses with me - [I thought] it's enough for sure," Radwanska joked after the match. "I thought maybe one or two matches at the most - especially as I'm unseeded."
"I think the rest did a good job for me. I'm relaxed and more healthy, for sure. Fresh, I guess. That's also important, you know, to be fresh. Then you're motivated more."

Sabalenka first came to prominence with her exploits for Belarus in the Fed Cup, but the power-hitting player has been making her move on the WTA Tour in the past year; and will contest her fourth semi-final on Friday.

Aryna Sabalenka. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
Sabalenka was ranked outside the top 140 at the start of last season, but a strong end to the season, featuring a semi-final in Tashkent and a runner-up finish to Maria Sharapova in Tianjin propelled her into the top-80 by the end of the year.

She opened 2018 with consecutive quarter finals in Shenzhen and Hobart, but she could not quite build on that, as her form petered out through the rest of the hard-court season, she won just one hard-court main draw match after Hobart- in Miami. Sabalenka opened her clay-court season with a final in Lugano, but again, she went off the boil, suffering successive opening round exits in Istanbul, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. 

She has been better on grass, starting off with a quarter final in s-Hertogenbosch, and then a first round exit in Mallorca, before producing her best ever run on the surface in Eastbourne, where she has beaten Sachia Vickery, Julia Goerges, Elise Mertens, and last year’s winner, Karolina Pliskova to make the semi-finals. She has had to fight very hard for her spot in the last four, with all her matches going to deciding sets. 

Sabalenka served at 66% against Pliskova, winning over 50% of points on her first and second serves on her way to securing her first top-ten win on the tour. The Belarusian broke the vaunted Pliskova twice to take the opening set, but the defending champion hit back to even the match, winning four straight games from 2-2 in the second set to force a decider. Sabalenka’s chance seemed to have gone when she trailed 4-1 in the third set, but she pushed again to level, before outlasting Pliskova in the tie break. The world number 45 crucially managed to maintain a positive winners-to-unforced errors ration, hitting 40 winners as against 39 errors in the two-hour 14-minute slug.

"After the match I was thinking, 'How I did it?... I was down 4-1, and there was no chance for me because my game was like totally died, I would like to say. I was so happy. It's good start of the grass season."

Sabalenka faces a completely different test on Friday when she takes on Radwanska for the first time. With Radwanska giving her very little pace, mixing up her shots, and chasing down everything, Sabalenka’s patience will come under extreme scrutiny. Will she bow to the creativity and tenacity of the wily Pole, or can she hit Radwanska out of the tournament?

"I never played against [Radwanska], and her game is really, really tough because she's a good runner," Sabalenka mused. "She read the game, like touch player...So it will be a tough match."

Sabalenka sure knows what to expect, but can she find a way past with the former Wimbledon finalist? Radwanska is totally comfortable with players coming at her, and her guile and experience in dealing with opponents like Sabalenka gives her the advantage in my opinion. 

Agnieszka Radwasnka vs Aryna Sabalenka is live from Eastbourne on Friday, 29 June from 11:00 local time/BST

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Agnieska Radwanska vs Aryna Sabalenka WTA Eastbourne Preview, Predictions and Live Stream: Radwanska seeks first WTA final in 18 months

Agnieszka Radwanska takes on Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals of the Nature Valley Classic on Friday. Can Radwanska reach her first WTA final sice January 2017? Read our preview, predictions and stream the match live online.

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