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TennisOne Lessons

Can Agnieszka Radwanska Reach Number One?

Marcin Bieniek

These days women tennis is really unpredictable. Each week there seems to be a different winner, with out a real favorite (with the possible exception of the reemergence of Serena).  It means everybody can beat each other on any given day. It may be interesting from a spectator's standpoint, but it also signals that the level of play on the women’s tour is not as high as it should be.

Click photo: Radwanska moves well along the baseline and she rarely misses, however, she lacks the firepower of some of
the bigger girls.

This is underscored by the fact that in recent years, Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, and Dinara Safina, all reached the number one spot on the WTA tour without winning a slam.

Can you imagine this situation in Men’s Tennis? Of course, not. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal have won 33 of the last 37 Grand Slams. Why doesn’t  this situation happen on the WTA? The answer is simple: No variety! The game the women play is one dimensional — what Mary Carillo dubbed, "Big Babe Tennis." You don't often see the angles shots, drop shots, slices, serve, and volleys, return and volleys etc., you see on the men's side. The most dominating style is hard-hitting from the baseline.

Agnieszka Radwanska, however, is of a another breed. She plays a different game. She likes to mix up shots, chang pace, use drop shots, volley, and lobs to befuddle opponents. And she's not afraid to come to the net if the situation calls for it.

Nowadays, if you bring something different to women’s tennis, you have a good chance to reach the podium more often and Agnieszka has this variety in spades. And she's one of the steadiest players on the tour, rarely beating herself by making unforced errors.

So, what prevents her from becoming number one and notching a few Grand Slam wins? Before I answer that question, I recommend taking a look at the top 10 on WTA tour.

As you will discover, at 5 ft, 8 in, Radwanska is similar in height to 5 of the other top 10 players. There are, however, visible differences in weight, body muscularity, and inborn abilities. Why do I look at that? Because, if we look for improvement, we have to compare our weakness to other players. So I ask again, with all the extra abilities she shows in coordination, agility, and varied playing style, why isn’t Radwanska number one?

Click photo: The serve is the most important issue for Agnieszka. She is the same height as Samantha Stosur (shown here), but serves with nowhere near the power.

The Serve

The serve is the most important issue for Agnieszka. Her first serve clocks in around 165 kph compared to 190 kph for Stosur. They are the same height, both possess really sound technique and similar racquet acceleration. So where then does the difference lie?

In my opinion, Radwanska needs a fitness program directed toward making her stronger. Other players like Bartoli, Stosur, or Williams are not that different in height to Agnieszka but their body look and composition is visibly different.

Fitness program in preparation phase should be directed toward gaining weight and building muscle mass. Radwanska has to develop more overall body strength to be able to serve harder. It is not just matter of only shoulder muscles. She can achieve that by doing circuit workouts with heavier loads and fewer reps. In the preparation period, this should be done 2-3 times a week. Combined with proper nutrition, she can gain a visibly stronger body in 4-6 weeks, a relatively short time.

After gaining muscle, she should drills designed to increase racquethead speed on her serve. She can do specific on-court drills (serving with heavy racquet with acceleration or serving 8-10 balls in a row with maximum acceleration without rest in between). This specific fitness and on court program can take her first serve to approximately 185 kph. In 2 years of good-planning directed toward building a service weapon, she should be able to serve at least 190 kph. With players like Sharapova or Williams who punish you every time you deliver a week serve, it would be extremely difficult to reach the top of the rankings.

Net Play

Agnieszka has really good hands at the net so she should play more often inside the service box. Why is this important? First, you have to use your strengths. If you have a good forehand for instance, most players will run around the backhand and try to dictate play with this shot. If you feel comfortable with the volley, why then should you avoid this shot?

Click photo: Radwanska has excellent instincts and soft hands around the net.

The modern game is based on heavy groundstrokes rallies from the baseline. When you attack the net, you shorten opponent’s response time and you present her with a different situation, one she may not be accustomed to.

Next time your at a tournament, check out the women on the practice courts. You can see how little time they train hitting passing shots, lobs, and angles. Coming to the net can bring a good volleyer like Radwanska some easy points and put confusion in her opponent’s mind.

So, how should she train this element?

Agnieszka has a potential to be good all-around player but she has to learn to use her strengths to come to the net more often. She has to become comfortable with more patterns from the baseline. She has to practice these patterns (forehand crosscourt + forehand Angle crosscourt + attack the net, forehand crosscourt + backhand angle crosscourt + attack the net, backhand slice crosscourt + backhand down-the-line+ attack the net).

Next, she has to force herself (creat a new habit so to speak) to attack every ball that lands around the service line. It is all about building reaction and she should be focused on ball perception and her first two explosive steps. If she gets to the point where this becomes automatic, she will begin to not only win more points but shorten some as well.

Mental Fuzziness

The mental side of tennis is really important and Radwanska has pretty good mental skills but she still has to work on it. The mental side is not only important when it comes to factors like overcoming fear, self belief, stress management, etc., but it can also be used as a weapon against opponents.

What do I mean by this? In short, intimidation! Sharapova, Azarenka, and especially Serena have this. The way they scream ‘’come on,” pump a fist, motivate, move; there demeanor is totally different than Radwanska’s. When they step on the court, they create an intimidating environment around them and that creates anxiety in their opponents — more stress, self-doubt, more mistakes.

Radwanska should try to emulate these girls — she should see results. I don’t believe you can walk carelessly and play full-hearted. The body is connected to the mind. You have to train this new habit, work on it all the time. It won’t work if you are doing it only on court. You have to walk like a champ even when you go shopping. It’s all about how much time you spend practicing.

In my opinion, Radwanska can be number one in a relatively short period of time. The level of women’s tennis isn’t as demanding as it used to be so a lot depends how fast she can make these improvements. Harder serves, more net-play, and new mental habits can bring Agnieszka to the peak of the game.

Everybody changes something, so it’s time for Radwanska to shake things up. If she just want to wait for Sharapova or Serena to have a bad day in big tournament, she can continue to play her game, but she may have a very long wait. However, if she wants to dominate women’s competition and be called “The best,” she has to think about adding something new.

Ask yourself this question, would Rafael Nadal have won Wimbledon without adding volleys and a bigger serve to his nearly perfect baseline game? And there-in should lie Radwanska's role model. Come to think of it, he should be a role model for the rest of us as well.

Your comments are welcome. Let us know what you think about Marcin Bieniek's article by emailing us here at TennisOne.

Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland. He is certificated by Polish Coaching Association and by Professional Tennis Registry. He worked with Top 20 players in Poland and also with top 150 players in the world. He is dedicated to making improvement. He created coaching tennis forum.

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