Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Younger Radwanska: From big time to bush leagues

Urszula Radwanska eyes a forehand during her victory over Veronica Mirosh-
nichenko, 19, today in the first round of the $25,000 Redding (Calif.) Chal-
lenger. Radwanska has tumbled from No. 29 in the world in 2012 to No. 716
because of injuries and illness. Photo by Paul Bauman
   REDDING, Calif. -- For Urszula Radwanska, it's like going from Broadway to summer stock in Poughkeepsie.
   The younger sister of star Agnieszka Radwanska climbed to the top 30 in the world five years ago. She has beaten former No. 1s Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, as well as Grand Slam champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone.
   Urszula Radwanska has reached the second round of all four Grand Slam tournaments a combined nine times, the same stage of the 2012 Olympics in London while representing Poland and the doubles quarterfinals of the 2009 French Open.
   She has earned $1.88 million in career prize money.
   But now Radwanska finds herself battling a bunch of college kids and other hopefuls in front of about 50 fans in the $25,000 Ascension Project Women's Challenger at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness. The singles winner will receive a whopping $3,919 compared with the $3.7 million that Sloane Stephens pocketed for winning the recent U.S. Open.
   Adding to the indignity, Radwanska had to qualify for the tournament with a ranking of No. 716.
   "It's very, very tough to get the motivation again because I was playing in the big moments on the big courts with big-name stars, so coming here to a 25 is not easy where there are no ballboys," Radwanska, 26, conceded after defeating Russian Veronica Miroshnichenko, an incoming freshman at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the first round in tonight's featured match. "There wasn't even an umpire for my first match of qualies, so it's a completely different world for me.
   "It's tough because I know I don't belong here. I know my level is much higher. I just need to play a couple more matches, a couple more tournaments, and I'm sure I'm going to be back where I was."
   What happened? Three major operations and a debilitating illness.
   First came spine surgery for a stress fracture at age 19, when she already was ranked 66th in the world. That knocked her out for six months, but Radwanska rebounded to attain a career-high ranking of No. 29 in 2012.
   A few years later came shoulder surgery that kept her out for four months. Again, she bounced back to crack the top 100.
   Last February, Radwanska had surgery for two torn ankle ligaments and missed three months. After playing for two months, she contracted mononucleosis. Radwanska tried to come back in February this year but was still weak.
   This is the third tournament of Radwanska's latest comeback. She lost in qualifying in $25,000 and $60,000 clay-court tournaments in Hungary.
   "So, yeah, I've been a little big unlucky with injuries and mononucleosis," Radwanska said with a laugh, " but I'm still fighting. I'm happy to be back and happy to be healthy. I'm trying to get back where I was."
   Against Miroshnichenko, Radwanska saved three set points serving at 4-5 in the first set and held for 5-5 amid a flurry of unforced errors by the 19-year-old left-hander. Radwanska bolted to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker and held on for the set.
   In the second set, Miroshnichenko was broken for 1-3 on a double fault and 1-5 on a backhand volley that sailed long.
   "It was tough," Radwanska said of the match. "She was lefty, so that's always not easy to play against. I couldn't get my rhythm because she was playing sometimes soft, sometimes strong. That was tough, but I'm happy I found a way to win."
   Radwanska's experience helped her pull out the first set.
   "At 5-all, I could see she's shaking a little bit, so I took advantage of her and won the first set," Radwanska said.
Lorraine Guillermo
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Another player with extensive Grand Slam experience, at least in doubles, was upset in the opening round. Seventh-seeded Maria Sanchez, a 27-year-old Modesto product, fell to little Lorraine Guillermo, a 24-year-old wild card from Walnut in Southern California, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
   Sanchez, the only American singles seed this year, won the 2011 Redding doubles title with since-retired Yasmin Schnack of Sacramento.
   Sanchez, 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters), had dominated Guillermo, only 5-foot-4 (1.63 meters) and 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms), 6-2, 6-2 in the last round of qualifying for the $25,000 Rancho Santa Fe Challenger in the San Diego area in February. It was their only previous meeting.
   "I think I've improved since then," mused Guillermo, a former Pepperdine All-American ranked No. 970. "I hope I would have improved in seven months. I think I played a bit more aggressive and focused on what I needed to do. She serves-and-volleys, which is kind of intimidating to play against, so I just focused on hitting my own shot."
   Guillermo rallied from a set and a break down against Sanchez, ranked No. 353 in singles after reaching a career-high No. 107 in 2013.
   "I wasn't really focusing on the score," Guillermo said. "I was really just focused on what was in front of me, like playing that point at that moment. Of course, the score is in play, but I just really had to focus on what I needed to do right then and there."
   Sanchez never held serve the rest of the way.
   Two qualifiers with Northern California connections also lost.
   Kat Facey, 24, of Placerville (near Sacramento) fell to American Caitlin Whoriskey 60, 6-3. Both players have an unusual stroke. Whoriskey, who won the 2015 Redding doubles title with compatriot Ashley Weinhold, is one of the few women with a one-handed backhand. Even more rare, Facey uses two hands on both sides. She and her fraternal twin sister, Alexandra, were the doubles runners-up in Redding in 2014.
   Olivia Hauger, a Cal junior, succumbed to Japan's Kana Daniel, another qualifier, 7-6 (3), 6-0.
   Urszula Radwanska, 5-foot-10 (1.77 meters),  and her 28-year-old sister, 5-foot-8 (1.73 meters), have different games.
   "I'm more aggressive on the court," Urszula said. "She's more tricky and waiting for opponents' mistakes."
   Urszula admits she's tired of being compared to Agnieszka, who rose to a career-high No. 2 in 2012 but has dropped to No. 11.
   "It's not easy," Urszula said. "A lot of people are asking me when I'm going to be as good as my sister, but like I said, I was a little bit unlucky. I had those surgeries which stopped me, so I'm just going a different way. Maybe it will take me more time to be a top player, but I believe I'm going to be there."
   Here are The Ascension Project singles and doubles draws and Thursday's schedule.

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