A couple of years back, while speaking to a magazine at home, in Poland, Agnieszka Radwanska was asked about the scariest moments in her life.
“Twice in the plane,” she told Gala magazine. “I was sure that we will end up upside down. I fastened the belt so firmly that I felt pain in my stomach for the next three days. I was holding so tight, that my hands started cramping. I was sure I’d never get on a plane again.”
But she did, and those planes are her “usual means of transport”, taking her from one event to the next 10 months of the year. And probably sometime Thursday, she will be back on an aircraft again, heading out of the Emirates after being knocked out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships by the Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta.
Up 4-1 in the first set, Radwanska crumbled to a disappointing 6-4, 6-1 defeat in the wind-blown second-round clash, ending with a double fault on match point.
“I think I started well, but the conditions are really worse for me than, for example, in Doha,” the world No 3 said after her defeat.
“The ball was really flying. I didn’t really feel the ball at all. I think she was using the wind much, much better than I did.”
Pennetta already had played four matches here – three in the qualifiers and the first round of the main draw. It was the first match for Radwanska, who had received a first-round bye as the second seed.
The 31-year-old Italian had a better grip of the elements, but Radwanska looked a bit listless, slightly jaded, just as she did in a surprising 6-1, 6-2 loss to Dominika Cibulkova in the Australian Open semi-finals last month.
It happened in Doha, as well. Looking comfortable in her first three wins, she imploded against Simona Halep in the semi-finals, losing 7-5, 6-2.
It is an oft-repeated story and that perhaps explains her lean pickings at the grand slams. In 31 appearances at the majors, she has one final – at Wimbledon in 2012 – two semis and seven quarter-finals. Outside the four majors, she has won three WTA Premier events.
If you compare those numbers with the other WTA top players in the same age group, Victoria Azarenka has won two grand slams and seven Premier events; Caroline Wozniacki has one grand slam final and five Premier titles, and Petra Kvitova has one grand slam, a year-end championship and three Premier crowns in her cabinet.
Head to head, Radwanska has a 12-40 record against the current top six – 0-8 against Serena Williams, 5-6 versus Li Na, 4-13 against Azarenka, 2-8 against Maria Sharapova and 1-5 vs Kvitova.
She is 30-50 against the top 10 and 52-63 against the top 15.
Radwanska, obviously, is very different to most in those rankings, a bit of a novelty in this generation.
She is considered more “old school”, making up for her lack of power with subtle touches, incredible reflexes (her instinctive return against Kirsten Flipkens in the Miami quarter-finals was voted the Fan Favourite Shot of 2013) and resolute defence.
Her on-court demeanour has endeared her to fans and she has won the WTA’s Fan Favourite Singles Player award for three consecutive seasons. She does not shriek or pump her fists at every point, and seldom bares any emotions.
“Anger is just wasting energy,” she once said. “Better to look ahead to something positive, the next point.”
However, sometimes she can seem completely uninterested in the next point. It could be her languid mien giving a false impression, but she does seem a bit suspect when the chips are down. Such as yesterday.
Radwanska, 24, played a couple of greats shots as she raced into the lead, including an overhead lob with her back to the net. But once Pennetta started charging the net and dictating the points, the Pole had few answers.
“I will never serve like a Serena, or even a Maria,” she once said. “I am different, and what I try to do is mix it up on the court. Also, with my game I must be consistent.”
Consistency, though, has been a deceptive ally, deserting her often.
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