World no. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska battles Barbora Strycova and the searing heat in Sydney as she tries to make her first WTA Tour final of 2017.
Agnieszka Radwanska continues her quest to reclaim the Apia International Sydney title as she takes on Barbora Strycova in Thursday’s semifinals.
Radwanska was a champion at the Apia International Sydney back in 2013 when she beat Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova to claim the Premier-level title, but hasn’t made it past the second round since. Despite a quarterfinal exit from the Shenzhen Open last week, where she was defending her title and which included a bagel at the hands of Alison Riske, Radwanska has been in fine form at the Apia International Sydney so far, beating Christina McHale 7-6(1), 6-1 before ousting Duan Ying-Ying – the Chinese player who served for the match against her last week in Shenzhen – 6-3, 6-2 to set up a semifinal clash with Strycova.
Radwanska has recently changed her racquet, which might account for a little more up-and-down in her results than we are used to seeing. It’s an interesting move for the world no. 3, who didn’t really build on her success at the 2015 WTA Finals Singapore in 2016 – Radwanska won the China Open as well as titles in New Haven and Shenzhen, but she once again failed to win a Grand Slam and indeed never looked like a threat to do so, failing to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon (presumably her best shot at a Slam win since she reached her one and only major final there in 2012) and having her best result in Melbourne where she made the semifinals, only to be soundly beaten by Serena Williams.
Radwanska has lost before the quarterfinals in Melbourne just once in the last seven years so she will be hoping for a similarly strong result in 2017, and so far her tennis in Sydney has been confident and as efficient as a player without a strong offensive forehand or big serve can produce.
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Next up for the world no. 3 in Sydney is Barbora Strycova, a player against whom she has an excellent record.
World no. 19 Strycova also comes into Sydney off the back of a quarterfinal loss – in her case to eventual champion Lauren Davis, an underpowered but tenacious retriever, in windy conditions in Auckland. Strycova reached her career-high ranking of world no. 19 in August of 2016, a season which was surely the finest of her career, although she didn’t win a title. The Czech has just one title to her name, an International-level title at Quebec City in 2011, but the former Wimbledon quarterfinalist made two big finals in 2016 – finishing runner-up to Sara Errani in Dubai, and to Madison Keys in Birmingham – as well as reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of Rome and Wuhan. Strycova’s 39-24 season included victories over Garbine Muguruza at the Australian Open and Angelique Kerber in Madrid and she was once more part of a victorious Fed Cup team, winning her singles match against Alize Cornet during the Czech Republic’s final against France and teaming up with Karolina Pliskova for a decisive singles victory.
Despite Strycova’s underwhelming defeat last week to Davis in Auckland, she has been ousting some serious opposition in Sydney, cruising through two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 7-5 before beating ninth seed Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-0. In the quarterfinals, Strycova took on former world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and the pair, neither of whom is known for their offensive game, battled for three hours in the searing heat in Sydney before Strycova prevailed, beating Wozniacki 7-5, 6-7(6), 6-4 to make her first semifinal of 2017.
‘For me it was good to have the 10 minutes' heat rule in. [After the second set] I was sitting in the locker room actually not thinking about the set, not thinking about the future, just how to recover fast,’ Strycova said. ‘At the beginning of the third set, I was down and not moving very well. But then I was saying to myself, keep going. Don't say anything. Don't be negative. Just play point by point.
‘That actually helped me. And I was playing very well when it was 3-3, the game, even I lost it. And then I was confident in finding a way to finish it.’
Strycova’s marathon against Wozniacki may well have worn her out, but it could also work to her advantage with the match against Radwanska due to take place at 4pm local when it should still be hot – she will be more used to those conditions than Radwanska, who played in the evening.
‘[S]he was playing unbelievable tennis and she's really on fire. Last year she also played amazing tennis. I'm just expecting a good match and we'll see how it goes tomorrow,’ Radwanska said of the meeting with Strycova.
The Pole is right to be wary of Strycova’s form, but she has a flawless 6-0 record against the Czech. Up until 2016, in fact, Radwanska had never dropped a set (or more than eight games in a match) against Strycova. The Czech pushed her harder in their two meetings in 2016 but Radwanska still prevailed in both, winning 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-2 on clay at the French Open and 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 on hard courts in Tokyo. It’s hard to see how Strycova will get her first win over Radwanska – the Czech’s all-round game doesn’t really include the power to hit the Pole off the court – unless Radwanska suffers the same kind of error-prone performance she did last week in Shenzhen. It should be the world no. 3 who comes through to her first final of 2017 in Sydney.
Radwanska vs Strycova is scheduled on court in Sydney on Thursday at 4pm local/5am GMT