Friday, July 26, 2013

Naked truth: Radwanska leads Polish surge

Top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska beat Francesca Schiavone,
the 2010 French Open champion, in the second round of the
Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. Photo by Paul Bauman
   STANFORD, Calif. — For decades, Poland struggled in professional tennis.
   Jadwiga Jedrzejowska reached three Grand Slam singles finals in the 1930s, and Wojtek Fibak climbed into the top 10 in singles and doubles in the late 1970s. That was about it. No Poles have been inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
   Poland still isn't exactly the center of the tennis universe, but the Central European nation of 38.5 million people has been making big news lately — on and off the court.
   Agnieszka Radwanska got the tennis ball rolling by advancing to the Wimbledon women's singles final last year. Two Polish men gained the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time this year, as Jerzy Janowicz defeated countryman Lukasz Kubot to give Poland its first male semifinalist at the tournament. Radwanska also reached the Wimbledon semis.
   Radwanska, 24, and her 22-year-old sister, Urszula, both reached today's quarterfinals in the Bank of the West Classic at Taube Family Tennis Stadium. Agnieszka is seeded first with a world ranking of No. 4, and Urszula is seeded seventh at No. 42.
    In addition, former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki of Germany and top-10 player Angelique Kerber of Germany have Polish parents or grandparents and speak fluent Polish. On the men's side, top-10 player Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland has Polish ancestry.
Schiavone lines up her trademark topspin
backhand. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Radwanska also made news this month by appearing nude in ESPN the Magazine's body issue. Although she was shown in only one modest photo, it created an uproar in Poland, which is 90 percent Catholic. Radwanska is pictured from the side sitting in a chair by a pool with her right arm strategically positioned.
   Radwanska beat 33-year-old Italian Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, 6-4, 6-3 Wednesday night in a highly entertaining second-round encounter in the hardcourt Bank of the West Classic. It was the first match since Wimbledon on grass for Radwanska, who had received a first-round bye.
   The Bank of the West Classic, in its 43rd year, is the oldest women's professional tennis tournament in the world and the first stop on the road to the U.S. Open in late August.
   After dispatching Schiavone, Radwanska discussed Poland's rise.
   "Definitely, tennis is much bigger than a few years ago," said Radwanska, who will play sixth-seeded Varvara Lepchenko of the United States in tonight's featured match at 8. "It's hard to say what's behind it. I was always practicing even without hardcourt or the great facilities in the U.S. (It was) a lot of work. (Now) kids from Poland believe they can also play good tennis." 
   One factor could be the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Players from Poland, a former Soviet satellite, then were free to travel for training and tournaments. Radwanska was born in 1989.
   Serbian stars Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic are fond of telling how they practiced in an empty pool in bitter cold as youths in their war-torn country. Radwanska said she has "a lot of stories" about harsh conditions in Poland, such as practicing before school in an unheated building in the winter.
Radwanska was criticized in her native Poland for posing nude
in ESPN the Magazine's body issue. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "It was minus 15 or minus 20 outside," Radwanska recalled. "There was ice on the top, everywhere. I had my jacket on, my hat, everything. It was around 4 degrees in the beginning of the practice. When we were finishing, it was maybe 9 or 10, so we were still playing with jackets.
   "It was like this for so many years. It was typical conditions in Poland. Now I can really appreciate (better conditions)."
   Has Radwanska considered training outside of Poland?
   "That would be no life," she said. "I feel normal when I go home."
   Suddenly, however, Radwanska is a controversial figure in Poland. After she posed for ESPN the Magazine, a catholic youth group dropped her from its campaign.
   "It's a shame that someone who has declared their love for Jesus is now promoting the mentality of men looking at a woman as a thing rather than a child of God worthy of respect and love," Father Marek Dziewiecki, a senior Catholic priest, told the Telegraph of London. "If she meets a man who she can truly love and establish a happy family and raise Catholic children, then she would probably have to hide these pictures from relatives."
   Radwanska, who's listed at 5-foot-8 (1.72 meters) and 123 pounds (56 kilograms), was surprised by the reaction.
   "I wasn't really expecting that huge thing about it," Radwanska, told reporters earlier in the week. "I'm still happy I did it."
   Radwanska elaborated on her Facebook page.
   "For those that are not familiar with the magazine, ESPN The Body Issue is a celebration of the beauty of the bodies of the best athletes in the world. It includes both men and women of all ages and all shapes and sizes," Radwanksa wrote. "Other athletes photographed include San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, 77-year-old golf legend Gary Player, and Olympic volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings -- during and after her pregnancy. My tennis colleagues Serena Williams, Daniela Hantuchova and Vera Zvonareva have all participated in the past.
   "The pictures are certainly not meant to cause offense, and to brand them as immoral clearly does not take into account the context of the magazine. Moreover, they do not contain any explicit imagery whatsoever. I train extremely hard to keep my body in shape and that's what the article and the magazine is all about. If you read the interview, it only discusses my job as an athlete and what I have to do physically to be participate at the highest level of the sport."
   Radwanska added that she was not paid for the photo shoot.
   "I agreed to participate to help encourage young people, and especially girls, to exercise, stay in shape and be healthy," Radwanska wrote.
At Stanford
Second-round singles
   Dominika Cibulkova (3), Slovakia, def. Stefanie Voegele, Switzerland, 7-5, 7-6 (3).
   Jamie Hampton (4), United States, def. Nicole Gibbs, United States, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-3.
   Urszula Radwanska (7), Poland, def. Daniela Hantuchova, Slovakia, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3).
   Vera Dushevina, Russia, def. Madison Keys, United States, 7-6 (0), 6-2.
Doubles quarterfinals
   Julia Goerges, Germany, and Darija Jurak (2), Croatia, def. Natalie Grandin, South Africa, and Alicja Rosolska, Poland, 0-6, 6-2, 1-0 (10-5).
   Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears (1), United States, def. Jacqueline Cako and Natalie Pluskota, United States, 6-3, 6-2.
Today's schedule
(Starting at noon)
   Sorana Cirstea (5), Romania, vs. Olga Govortsova, Belarus.
   Urszula Radwanska (7), Poland, vs. Dominika Cibulkova (3), Slovakia.
   Jamie Hampton (4), United States, vs. Vera Dushevina, Russia.
(Not before 8 p.m.)
   Agnieszka Radwanska (1), Poland, vs. Varvara Lepchenko (6), United States.
   Daniela Hantuchova, Slovakia, and Lisa Raymond (3), United States, vs. Asia Muhammad and Allie Will, United States.
Court 6
(Not before 4:30 p.m.)
   Olga Govortsova, Belarus, and Alla Kudryavtseva, Russia, vs. Hao-Ching Chan, Taiwan, and Vera Dushevina (4), Russia.

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