BARCELONA, SPAIN: It was nothing like as comfortable as some imagined it would be, but Poland got there in the end, victory in the decisive doubles rubber here in the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona on Sunday taking them into the World Group for the first time.
For that, inevitably, they had largely Agnieszka Radwanska to thank, the world No, 3 contributing three points to her country’s cause just as she had done in the Group II win away to Sweden in February. Her 25th birthday was more than a month ago. No matter. She was deservedly given the bumps anyway by her teammates, victory here being the best present she could have asked for.
Now, as then, it was the doubles team of Radwanska and Alicja Rosolska who carried Poland to victory, winning 64 62 against Spain’s Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Anabel Medina Garrigues. All things considered, the Spanish had done well to take it to a fifth and final rubber since they were without their own No. 1, Carla Suarez Navarro.
Agnieszka Radwanska is normally partnered by her sister Urszula, but the latter did not look back to her best yet here after a shoulder operation in October – although she said she was fully recovered. Whether she was or not, she certainly looked out of sorts, losing both her singles rubbers, the second quite conclusively on Sunday 61 63 in barely an hour to Soler-Espinosa – a win that had given the Spanish hope that they might just win this tie.
Agnieszka, however, had other ideas. She is an exceptional tennis player who, her captain Tomasz Wiktorowski, thinks, will one day win a grand slam title. Realistically, she needs greater support to advance much further in the Fed Cup, never mind win it. Almost single-handedly steering her team into the World Group is one thing, but to achieve the ultimate dream of actually winning the competition requires a much greater team effort than Poland can, at the moment, summon.
The quality Radwanska showed above all throughout this tie was consistency, which never sounds very exciting but is of paramount importance when it comes to winning major titles – just ask Spain’s captain Conchita Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion.
“She can do pretty much everything that she wants to do,” said Martinez. “She can serve okay - pretty good - she can volley, she can drop shot, she can run, but what I like the most is that she’s one of the most consistent – or the most consistent player - on the tour. She always wins the matches that she has to. Can she win a grand slam? Why not.”
Another quality that she oozes with is desire and it was never more obvious than in the final game of the match when with poor Soler-Espinosa looking to hold for the first time in the match at 40-love up, Radwanska refused to let go. “We’re Polish, we’re tough, so we’re not giving up any points,” she said proudly.
At 5-2 up, other players might have happily waited for the opportunities that would surely follow in the next game or two, but instead she and Rosolska grittily hung in there to pull level before Radwanska tenaciously set up match point with an angled forehand drive volley. Needless to say, when Spain eventually succumbed it was to another cleverly angled Radwanska shot. “She was anticipating everything and kept surprising us,” remarked Medina Garrigues.
Just as Martinez feared, the problem of facing an opponent who has a nasty habit of always returning one more ball proved the undoing of Spain’s young new No. 1, Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, but at least she went down playing her natural attacking game against Agnieszka Radwanska.
The scoreline of 63 62 sounded straightforward enough, but it was a compliment to the 21-year-old Spaniard that Radwanska needed much of her wile and guile to avenge her sister Urszula’s defeat on Saturday to “Tita”, as the Spanish tend to call girls christened Maria-Teresa.
Just as in that match, the Spaniard dictated many of the rallies with her huge forehand, but Radwanska kept getting the ball back until Torro-Flor eventually succumbed, probably as much through frustration as anything.
Radwanska, it has to be said, was not at her best. Her first serve was misfiring terribly and even her drop shot, which had been almost flawless against Soler-Espinosa, too frequently fell short in the damp conditions. The service stats said it all: Radwanska’s first serve was only 41 per cent compared to Torro-Flor’s 76 per cent and yet the Pole still managed to win 67 per cent of the points on it while Torro-Flor’s return was a meagre 38 per cent.
The girl from Villena, near Alicante will have much to ponder on when she boards her flight to a tournament in Marrakesh on Monday morning and as much as the defeat may hurt now, on reflection, she will probably view this as a good learning experience.
Captain Tomasz Wiktorowski (POL) - 20/04/2014
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) - 20/04/2014
Captain Conchita Martinez (ESP) - 20/04/2014