As Agnieszka Radwanska’s coach Tomasz Wiktorowski put it, starting the year ranked 28 in the world will be an “unusual” situation for the Polish perennial top-tenner.
Injuries and illness have hampered Radwanska in 2017, with foot problems bothering her since May and a virus disrupting her Asian swing.
The result was a forgettable season which saw her compile a 25-18 win-loss record, and drop from No. 3 in the world to just inside the top-30.
It’s the first time since 2010 Radwanska has ended the year outside the top-eight.
“Definitely a very difficult year. I’ve been struggling with a couple of injuries, a couple of viruses as well on the way. It was really hard being without preparation before every Grand Slam pretty much,” Radwanska told Sport360 during her preseason training stint in Dubai last week.
“I was just praying that this year would be over and I’m just going to start from the beginning next year. We’ll see how it goes but for sure I don’t think it can be worse than this year.”
After making at least one Grand Slam semi-final in each of five consecutive seasons from 2012 to 2016, Radwanska couldn’t make it past the fourth round at any of the majors this year.
She wasn’t able to qualify for the year-ending WTA Finals for the first time since 2010 and ended up getting a longer vacation than usual due to her earlier than usual end to the season.
That inspired her and her team to change up their preseason preparations and they decided, for the first time, to come to Dubai to train and get ready for 2018.
Radwanska, who got married to her hitting partner Dawid Celt last July, was joined by him, Wiktorowski, her fitness trainer and physio at the Aviation Club in Dubai, where they focused on her physical conditioning to help her bounce back to her top form.
They also worked on her strength and endurance at Um Suqeim beach – something she admits was a new addition to her training regimen.
“It is painful. It was painful and I’m still tight,” she said with a laugh, referring to those sessions on the beach.
“But I think it’s something different and it’s very nice to do something new. Obviously so many years on tour you’ve been practicing the same things over and over again, millions of the same hits and training, so running on the beach is something new. I still have a couple of more sessions on the beach so we’re going to see if I survive.”
She assured she’s feeling fit though, and is hopeful that her injury woes are behind her.
“Physically I’m good so far, being healthy and my foot is also much better than it was. I’ve been working on that for a really long time and I really hope it’s going to be much better next year,” added the 28-year-old.
Wiktorowski explained that the two-week training block they had in Dubai was all about her physical preparation. Their time in the Emirates coincided with Petra Kvitova’s preseason training in Dubai but the Radwanska and Kvitova didn’t practice together because the Pole had not reached that stage – hitting with another pro – in her 2018 prep.
“We’re not even looking into good hitting partners at the moment. We have two physical trainers with us. This is a pretty tough time for Aga, but then we plan I hope a pretty good recovery and in a week we start specific preparation for tennis,” said Wiktorowski.
“It is a very unusual schedule for us, first time since I remember she didn’t qualify for Singapore so she had pretty long holidays. So I hope she had a good recovery at the same time. So far everything went smooth and easy for us, but yes that was a tough year with a lot of injuries and a virus. But I hope we’ve already dealt with this. She’s healthy and we’re doing whatever we can to prepare her next year.”
Radwanska will kick off her 2018 season in Auckland and she knows she’s facing a unique challenge, trying to climb back up the rankings.
She insists her goals remain the same though as she continues to chase an elusive Grand Slam title and is not daunted by the task at hand.
The Krakow-native also refuses to blame her current lower ranking solely on her injuries, stating that the competition in the women’s game has gotten fiercer.
“It is something new for sure but well that’s how it is, especially with so many things going on this year,” Radwanska says of her ranking position.
“And also for sure I must say that there’s a lot of players that are playing at a really high level right now and a lot of young up-and-coming players also playing great tennis so it’s been really tough. Every year it’s getting harder and harder and you really have to work also harder to stay there. For sure it’s a number where I didn’t really start from before but well, we start from there.”
Asked if this is a “tricky situation” for Radwanska, Wiktorowski quickly responds: “It’s not tricky it’s additional motivation to get back to the top. I mean 28 is not bad, I’m not saying it’s a disaster, just an unusual start of the season for Aga but we’re looking to a brighter future.”
Radwanska is arguably the craftiest player on tour, which is why it’s no surprise she keeps winning the ‘Shot of the Month’ awards all year and is voted as a ‘fan favourite’ each season.
The Polish ‘ninja’, as her fans affectionately call her, does not have a power shot to rely on though. The upcoming generation of young talent on tour is predominantly all about power, with players like Jelena Ostapenko and Madison Keys being true masters of all-out attack with their cannonball shots. Does Radwanska feel she has to adjust her game to counter all these big-hitters?
“There’s so many girls playing at the top-10 level. As we can see, there are so many different names winning big events which is something we haven’t seen before that much,” said the former Wimbledon finalist.
“For sure next year is going to be a very interesting year, challenging for so many players as well. Every tournament is a different story and for sure women’s tennis has proven that.
“There’s a new generation playing very powerful tennis but there are still players playing similar to my tennis. There’s always going to be two different styles of tennis on the tour.
“I’m not going to really change my tennis because that’s how I play and that’s how I can play. But it also depends on the day and surface and tournament, how it goes, but you can see so many different scores every single week. Of course nobody’s perfect, you always need to improve everything, all your shots and all your tennis because everything is going forward. But I have to stick to my game and do everything I can to play better and better.”
Wiktorowski believes tennis is becoming more and more exciting with lots of fresh faces coming up. He acknowledges that younger players are hitting with higher mph but has confidence Radwanska can find ways to stop them.
“She’s one of a kind, it’s hard to give another example of this kind of player, playing this style. Maybe in the past it would be easier to find some players playing this kind of tennis,” he says of Radwanska.
“It’s not like we’re looking into the future from different perspectives than what we’ve been doing so far. We can’t change too much.
“We can maybe adjust some things. She has to be prepared to compete with those girls. I’m looking more into the physical preparation at the moment than technical stuff on court.
“Tennis has to stay almost the same. Of course we expect maybe some more big shots, different tactical solutions on court, but we can’t change her tennis. But what we can do, and where she has some reserve to use is for sure her physical preparation.”
One thing is for sure – the gap between the players was smaller this season, and there were seven different women who could have ended the year as the world No. 1 depending on their results at the season-closing WTA Finals in Singapore.
Simona Halep ultimately walked away with the top ranking, while Wozniacki took home the WTA Finals crown.
Four different players won the four Grand Slams in 2017 with Serena Williams clinching the Australian Open, while she was pregnant, Jelena Ostapenko claiming a maiden major trophy at Roland Garros, Garbine Muguruza winning a second Slam and first at Wimbledon, and Sloane Stephens making a stunning run to the US Open title.
So who does Radwanska consider the ‘Player of the Year’ in her book?
“I think consistency is what matters and I would have to say Caro (Wozniacki) because she played all year very well, on every surface, so many finals. She was very consistent the whole year, so I would pick her, even without the last title she won (in Singapore), I think she was the best this year,” said Radwanska of her friend Wozniacki.