Earlier in the day defending champion Serena Williams had been shown the door by Sabine Lisicki and, for an albeit brief moment, it looked as though Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, the highest remaining seed in the women’s draw would be following in her footsteps at the hands of Tsvetana Pironkova.
The unseeded Bulgarian, who has made a name for herself on the SW19 lawns in recent years, barely put a foot wrong in the opener of her three-set tussle against the Polish No.4 seed but eventually succumbed 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in two hours and 13 minutes.
Whether it was Williams’ shock exit that gave Radwanska the wake-up call she needed midway through the first set remains to be seen but having conceded four games on the trot, the No.4 seed eventually held serve in the fifth game.
At the subsequent change of ends the scoreboard flashed that the American top seed was trailing Lisicki in the final set. It may have been a coincidence but from that instant the Pole managed to shake off the nervous, uneasy game that had been plaguing her, promptly breaking Pironkova in the very next game with a crisp, cross-court forehand winner.
A runner-up at The Championships last year, Radwanska continued to hit the ball with aplomb – even when the crowd disrespectfully erupted into cheers and applause on hearing the news that Williams had been ousted midway through the seventh game – but Pironkova refused to bow to the spirited fight-back knowing full well she possessed the weapons to beat the Pole.
Although Radwanska led her 7-2 in the head to head, she had beaten her on the turf at Eastbourne's Devonshire Park last year so she set about raising her game, firing balls down the line with incredible power and accuracy. A combination of decisive play, winning volleys, and a lucky net cord helped Radwanska stave off four set points, but the Bulgarian ultimately claimed the opener on the fifth with a penetrating drive that forced Radwanska to blast the ball long.
The question was whether the lady from Plovdiv could hold her nerve, particularly given that Radwanska was growing in confidence with every ball. She couldn’t. Time and time again Radwanska generated breathtaking groundstrokes from an almost crab-like crouching position that has very much become her trademark shot. An early break allowed the 12-time title holder to remain in control for much of the second, which she eventually closed out with an ace.
Pironkova received a medical time out at the start of the third for a right foot problem but the break did little to interrupt Radwanska’s rhythm. There followed an inconsistent, patchy game on the part of the Bulgarian, in which she hit beautiful winners one minute and then ballooned balls long the next. Radwanska capitalised, moving Pironkova all over the court with devastating groundstrokes. The sweetest was arguably a beautiful forehand slice, which glided past Pironkova at the net on match point.
Despite being the highest remaining seed in the ladies draw, Radwanska maintains she feels no extra pressure. “Not really. I mean, there's still a lot of players playing really great tennis over there. So I think, you know, every match is different story. [It] doesn't matter what ranking they having,” she said.
Looking ahead to her quarter-final meeting with Li Na, who dispatched Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-0 earlier today, Radwanska added: “Definitely I will have to play aggressive and really good tennis to beat her.”
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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