After a memorable six days at the Rogers Cup, the last women standing are a 34-year-old veteran and a player we thought was in a funk.
Venus Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska will contest the showpiece in Montreal today, with $467,000 and 900 ranking points on the line. It’s Aga’s first final since she finished runner-up at Indian Wells in March, a welcome turnaround after a disappointing European summer. Venus has won titles here and there over recent years, but not since 2010 has she contested a final of this magnitude. Check out the Williams vs Radwanska Head to Head.
Williams played aggressive, smart and determined tennis on Saturday to beat arguably the greatest player of all time, who also happens to be her sister. In the 25th edition of Venus v Serena, the elder sibling was a model of composure. After Serena gained the upper hand by dominating the first set tie-break, Venus refused to get down on herself. She continued to step up the court at the beginning of the second set, launching herself into returns and aiming for the corners during high-intensity rallies. This approach, combined with a letdown from Serena, allowed Venus to take the second set 6-2.
And the decider followed a similar pattern, with Serena simply unable to disrupt Venus’ rhythm. In seasons past we have got used to seeing Venus’ forehand break down, or her serve lose its potency. Yet in the Montreal semi-final she was at her powerful and agile best right up until the final point. She had Serena on the ropes and kept pummelling, eventually winning the third set 6-3 and ending the match with 25 winners.
While tennis’ most remarkable family understandably grabbed all the headlines yesterday, we shouldn’t ignore the significance of Radwanska’s 7-6, 7-6 victory over Ekaterina Makarova. The Pole had lost her last two encounters with the left-hander, at last year’s US Open and this year’s Wimbledon. She hadn’t found anything like a solution to the Russian’s solid, flat hitting in either of those losses, and knew she’d have to produce something special to derail her in Canada.
She did. In a contest that actually lasted three minutes longer than the Williams battle, Radwanska used just the right amount of variety to keep Makarova guessing. She defended well, but also stepped out of her comfort zone when required, trading heavy blows from the back of the court. Perhaps the most impressive stat for the third seed concerned her second serve. Radwanska won 67% of second serve points and was broken only twice in 12 service games – an encouraging sign for a player known for her weakness in that department.
This final has the makings of a classic because it promises what so many tennis fans love to see: a contrast in styles. Venus is the big-hitting, hard-serving natural athlete who sees every ball as a target. Radwanska relies on court coverage, angles and guile and caresses the ball as often as she bashes it.
Venus leads the pair’s head-to-head 5-3, but lost the two most recent encounters in straight sets and hasn’t beaten Radwanska since 2010. That said, she hasn’t played this well since 2010. Williams will enter this match knowing that she has a prime opportunity to cap one of the best weeks of her career, and she’ll be disappointed if she doesn’t take it. Radwanska, although less intimidated by Venus than she is by Serena, will not relish the prospect of facing a power player in peak form.
A major factor in this final could be the essential difference between the Williamses’ playing styles. Serena has developed fully-thought-out Plans B and C for when her A game isn’t working, which means she always has an answer for whatever Radwanska throws at her. But Venus continues to be a risk-taker even when her ambitious shots aren’t paying off, and therein lies Radwanska’s key to the match.
If she can extend the rallies, mix drop shots with moon balls and topspin with slices, all the while keeping her unforced error count to a minimum, there’s a chance that an exhausted Venus could break down under constant pressure to produce winners. Venus’ fitness has been outstanding this week, but she must be feeling the mileage after five matches in five days, four of which went the distance. Radwanska is tough to beat at the best of times, and even tougher when you’re running on empty.
Prediction: Radwanska in three sets.