Agnieszka Radwanska's first Grand Slam final may not have been successful but it was certainly unforgettable. Laid low by an upper respiratory infection which left her hardly able to speak, the Polish 23-year-old staged a remarkable fight back against Serena Williams, only to find herself outplayed by a stronger opponent who went on to win 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.
She was seeded third for the Ladies' Singles at the 2012 Championships, three places above Williams, but the 30-year-old American had already won four times here and that experience, added to her power, was crucial. In the opening set Radwanska, unable to generate more speed on her serve than the mid-80s miles an hour, was overwhelmed and lost the first five games before there were any signs of the recovery the Centre Court crowd were so vocally hoping to see.
At 0-5 she faced two set points, but wriggled clear thanks to two of many errors from the American and held her first service game with a pair of aces, to loud cheers. But she was unable to make further progress in a set which got away from her in 36 minutes before the players were driven off court by a shower.
When play resumed after a 20-minute break the Centre Court saw a different Radwanska. Having had a breather, having presumably taken aboard some advice and serving with new balls, she startled Williams by holding serve comfortably at the start of the second set, only to fall 1-3 behind as her slow serves came back at her almost before she had finished her follow-through on the service action. Just when it appeared a lack of self-belief was setting in, Radwanska found inspiration from a decline in the Williams game and after 69 minutes managed to reach her first break point, thanks to an overhit Williams forehand, and secured the break on the next point, again courtesy of an erratic Williams forehand.
Now level at 4-4 the Polish woman started to hold serve with more assurance as the confidence leaked out of the Williams game. She led 6-5 and then broke the American for a second time to take the set and level the match after one hour 25 minutes. Although Radwanska had managed only five winners, compared to Williams' 22, she benefitted from 18 unforced errors by the American. Williams confessed later, "I panicked a little bit when she started playing excellent grass court tennis, getting a lot of balls back."
With her courtside box group urging her on, Radwanska looked capable, for the first time, of actually winning the title, a victory which would have propelled her to No.1 in the world rankings, but from 2-1 in the third set she wilted as Williams, realising that the great occasion might slip away from her, lifted her play to the level of the opening set and swept the next five games.
Hardly able to speak because of her sore throat, Radwanska clutched her runner-up plate and admitted, "It was not my day." But she received warm applause as she thanked the crowd for their support. And afterwards she insisted, "These have been the best two weeks of my life. When you practise and play tennis all your life, it's a dream for anyone to be in the final. So basically, for sure, I'm very happy. Of course, it's always disappointing to lose, especially after a tough and good match. But I'm so happy about my final.
"I was a little nervous in the beginning, especially since this was my first final. So when the rain break came it gave me the chance to cool down a bit. And when I went back on court it just felt like a normal match, didn't seem like a final any more, so there was not that much pressure.
"But Serena was serving very well. So many aces, I couldn't do much about it. I had my chances when I took the second set but she was just too good in the important moments of the third set, so it was hard for me to come back. She was hitting some great shots at the end."
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all