INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Tennis players are constantly battling to correctly answer the toughest question while competing - is it better to hit the ball where they want to hit it or where their opponent doesn't want it?
Not so for Agnieszka Radwanska.
Radwanska's wonderful off-speed, chaotic game style full of drop shots and slice forehands was humming perfectly Friday evening as she defeated Simona Halep, 63 64, to move into the final of the BNP Paribas Open.
Radwanska's game is completely focused on giving her opponent fits and supplying no rhythm to force them out of their "Game Plan A" into something far more manageable to dismantle.
Halep is the hottest player in the game right now but from the very first point of the match Radwanska made sure this encounter was going to be played primarily on her terms. Radwanska won the opening two points by coming forward and finishing with aggressive topspin forehand volley winners. She also made all six first serves in the opening game and most importantly gave no rhythm to Halep that she desperately needed to feed her heavy groundstrokes where she reigns supreme from the back of the court.
"What I was trying to do was playing aggressively from the beginning of the match and just trying to go for my shots," Radwanska said. This aggressive tactic worked perfectly and confused Halep on how to handle it. "I think I started the match a bit too soft. I was not ready to play," Halep said. Radwanska's victory was built around jumping on all short balls as she came to the net 25 times, winning an impressive 76% (19/25) of those points. This tactic was just like dismantling a bomb as it put Halep time and time again into a defensive position having to hit backhand passing shots just to stay in the match.
Halep's backhand produced six winners for the match but coughed up 25 errors including seven passing shots from the pressure of Radwanska coming to the net. Radwanska raced to a 4-0 lead in 14 minutes in the opening set as Halep had trouble adjusting to the vastly different game style. "Today wasn't easy because she's playing a different game than the others. Is not the same as playing Bouchard or Safarova. They are hitting the balls and Radwanska is playing softer and more intelligent, and it's very tough to change," Halep said.
Halep did find her range at the start of the second set and won the opening game with a spectacular 25-shot rally that ended with a drop shot after Radwanska ran down several balls with amazing defense. Halep broke for a 3-1 lead primarily by extending the rallies and fatiguing Radwanska but the errors and frustration started flowing too easily again and Radwanska climbed back into the set.
Radwanska mixed in six drop shots and although she only won two of those points it was enough to short-circuit Halep's heavy hitting from the back of the court. As testament to Radwanska's disruptive style of play, the most winners she hit in the match were forehand volleys with seven. Radwanska also accumulated three aces, two forehand winners and one backhand winner.
With Halep's backhand misfiring, the burden was on the forehand to do more but with nine winners and 21 errors it was too much to ask on this occasion. The night belonged to Radwanska as she out-thought and out-ran the newest member of the Top 5 players in the world rankings.
Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) is the leading analyst for wtatennis.com throughout the 2014 season, utilizing SAP Data & Insights to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. Visit Craig's website at www.braingametennis.com for more expert strategy analysis.