Radwanska to face Riske in Shenzhen Open Final

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Copyright © 2016. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

Agnieszka Radwanska Tennis News

American Alison Riske demolished Hungarian slugger Timea Babos 6-2, 6-4 in an exciting Shenzhen Open semifinal that displayed eyebrow-raising shotmaking — Riske thus notching her first win over Babos at the most opportune time, having come up short in their past two encounters, including a 2015 straight loss in the second round when attempting to defend her title at the Tianjin Open.

Riske played sensational tennis to disrupt Babos’s game and prevent her from finding the groove that makes her such a difficult opponent to beat. Riske deployed a highly effective strategy of directing most of her shots to the Babos forehand, only going to the dangerous backhand side when she could really step in and drive the ball deep to open up the court — she would then turn on the reply and unleash it to the forehand side for a winner, having lured Babos into the ad court.

Riske came out firing, breaking Babos in the first game of the match — a feat she would often repeat, as Babos would win only half of the points on her first serve, and a dismal third on her second serve. Babos held only once in the first set, and though she started the second set by getting broken again, she started to challenge Riske more by reining in her targets and playing aggressively within the lines. Babos broke Riske back to level the second set at 2-all with her trademark shriek of “Come on!”, and followed up with a hold of serve.

Riske, however, stayed the onslaught of Babos’s rising aggression by returning to her highly successful strategy of targeting the Babos forehand and depriving the backhand of shots that her opponent could turn on for a winner. By the time Riske would go the backhand, she had already orchestrated the point to her liking, and would then play the winning coda to the opposite sideline. Riske broke again at 3-all, consolidated and then nearly broke again at 3-5, so hungry to win every point that she produced unthinkable winners on the run —  like a beautiful backhand that she managed to tuck inside the sideline for a passing shot at 30-15. Though Babos was ultimately able to hold that game to force Riske to serve for the match, it was increasingly clear that Riske would not be denied. On her first match point, she used another pattern that had served her well, choosing to come surging into net behind a powerful forehand and then flipping a two-handed backhand volley crosscourt for an angled winner. With that, Riske was through to her second career final — once again in China.

“It was a tough match for me,” Riske reflected. “She’s obviously an amazing competitor and a great player, so I was happy to get through. It’s so great to be in my first final of the year in the first week of the year — you can’t beat that — unless I win!” she realized.

In the other singles semi, Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) rolled over Anna-Lena Friedsam (GER) in her easiest match thus far of the Shenzhen Open, a relatively drama-free affair at 6-2, 6-4.

Though Friedsam was able to challenge Radwanska in individual rallies, able to lace impressive forehand winners or surprising inside-out backhands past the fleet-footed Radwanska, she was also quick to offer errors and unable to string together enough points to ever truly threaten the first seed. With Friedsam being unable to sustain the level of play needed, following flashes of brilliance with strange shot selection or inexplicable errors, Radwanska quickly rattled off the win.

Radwanska broke Friedsam in the third and seventh games of the first set, having won almost twice as many total points as Friedsam in the course of her dominant set.

Friedsam surrendered a break to the open the second set, but took advantage of a surprising blip of errors off Radwanska’s racket to break back for 2-all in the second set. However, Friedsam returned the favor instantly, with two double faults among the series of errors that gave Radwanska the break back at love. Radwanska then held at love for a dominant streak of eight consecutive points before Friedsam cracked an inside out backhand winner to stem the tide.

Nonetheless, Radwanska rode out her opponent’s streaky play — dazzling shots followed by puzzling errors and then capped by a stroke of genius — to serve for the match at love, which she sealed with an ace out wide.

“I had a great match,” Radwanska said. “I’m very happy with my performance here in the first tournament of the year. First tournament, first final — so it couldn’t be better.”

As for facing Riske, she said, “I’m expecting to have a tough match against her. We haven’t played for a while, so it will be a good challenge for me. It’s the finals, so I’m going to have to play my best tennis and we’ll see what will happen then.”

Riske and Radwanska played at Indian Wells in 2015, with Radwanska emerging the victor 6-3, 6-1.

Riske has played a lot of tennis on her road to the final, needing three sets in each of her first three matches: she upset 8th seed Annika Beck, 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-2 in the first round, followed by 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over HSIEH Su-Wei, and then a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 defeat of Anett Kontaveit. Though later in the season, an easier road to the finals would seem to be an advantage — the finalist presumably all the more fresh for having been taxed less en route — this early in the season players are happy to get all court time under match conditions that they can get.

Radwanska has yet to drop a set on her way to the Shenzhen Open finals, advancing 6-4, 6-3 over Aleksandra Krunic indoors, then moving back outside to defeat ZHANG Shuai 6-1, 7-5, and then enduring a 6-3, 6-2 challenge over WANG Qiang that she noted was a very tight tough match, far closer than the score would indicate.

In doubles action, the remaining semifinalists battled to meet Vania King (USA) and Monica Niculescu (ROU), who already advanced to the finals the day prior: number one seeds ZHENG Sai Sai and XU Yi-fan eliminated fourth seeds Cagla Buyukakcay (TUR) and Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) 7-6(5), 6-3.

In a seesawing first set that saw four breaks of serve, Xu and Zheng managed to stave off a deciding-point set point at deuce on Xu’s serve to level the first set at 5-all, both teams proceeding to hold to force a tiebreaker. After Krunic netted a volley the first point to give away a minibreak, Xu and Zheng had a 1-2 punch on Xu’s serve, Zheng crossing to flick a volley at the flinching Krunic. Up 2-0, an approaching Xu carved a beautiful touch volley that melted into the opposing service box, and their artistry only continued as they ran away with the breaker.

The teams again traded breaks early in the second set, with the set proceeding on serve until 3-4, when the Chinese duo earned a triple break point to serve for the match. They converted their second chance when a Buyukakcay forehand drifted just long. The Europeans looked poised to break Xu’s serve right back when at 30-40 Zheng streaked across the court to chip a forehand volley that glanced off the tiniest part of the sideline. On the deciding deuce point, an overhead from Xu clipped the tape to give the Chinese duo a lucky winner and the match.

“We just had to settle in and focus on playing each and every ball,” Zheng said after the match.

Having received a bye as the first seeds, Xu and Zheng needed only to conquer Americans Nicole Gibbs and Alison Riske 7-6(5), 6-0 before their win in the semis tipped them into the finals. Their final foes, King and Niculescu defeated CHUANG Chia-Jung (TPE) and Oksana Kalashnikova (GEO) 7-5, 6-3, edged Irina Khromacheva (RUS) and Liziya Marozava (BLR) 6-4, 7-6(5), and squeaked out a barnburner against the Romanian team Andreea Mitu and Patricia Maria Tig 6-3, 3-6, 19-17 to secure their slate in the 2016 Shenzhen Open finals.

With the number one seed making it through to the finals in both the singles and the doubles, fans can expect to see a very high level of play in the first final of 2016.

CENTER COURT, starting at 2:00 pm

[1] A. Radwanska (POL) vs A. Riske (USA)
[1] Y. Xu (CHN) / S. Zheng (CHN) vs V. King (USA) / M. Niculescu (ROU)

Copyright © 2016. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.