Agnieszka Radwanska is carrying a bit of a burden as she arrives at the semi-finals of Wimbledon 2013. Whisper it... she is by far the highest-ranked of the remaining players.
Of course, by reaching the semi-finals, the 24-year-old No.4 seed has achieved precisely what her seeding suggested she would. But that makes her a bit of a novelty this fortnight. Her opponent Sabine Lisicki, for example, should theoretically have gone out three rounds ago, even before she met her destiny in the last 16 to become The Woman Who Beat Serena Williams.
Some have Lisicki as the title favourite on the strength of that win. Others favour Radwanska on the strength of her ranking and 12 career titles. At Wimbledon 2013 – “a crazy year”, according to John McEnroe – being pronounced favourite is akin to the kiss of death.
Last year’s runner-up appears entirely unencumbered by any sense of expectation. That final last year, where she gave Williams a three-set test, was a breakthrough for Radwanska.
Not only did she snap her habit of repeated Grand Slam falls at the quarter-final stage, but she became Poland’s first Slam finalist since Jadwiga Jedrzejowska in 1937.
Her fellow Pole Jerzy Janowicz, who himself has progressed much further than predicted in the men’s draw, credits Radwanska with creating a national revolution in the game, and believes she will lift the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday.
“I was the first top 10 player in so many years,” agrees Radwanska. “I kind of started it. It’s great now to have the guys doing so well. Tennis so much bigger for us than it was before. I think [Polish players] all like grass. This tournament is huge for Poland.”
Meanwhile Radwanska has made light of a thigh injury she sustained during her energy-sapping quarter-final victory over Li Na.
"I have had two tough matches in the past week," she said. "Too much tennis, always struggling with that – but it's a good problem to have, and I just have to keep going. My legs are a bit overused. If it’s the end of a Grand Slam you don’t think about pain. You just fight until the end. I don’t know how much pain I would have to be in to give up. There’s no limit.”
That kind of talk gives the lie to her sweet appearance, underlined by her elegant style. She lacks the stature and power of leading rivals, but no player reaches the world No.2 spot, as she did after last year’s Wimbledon, by accident.
Intriguingly she has played Lisicki (who speaks Polish along with her native German) just twice before, both times on hard courts. Two years ago Lisicki won in three sets, and then last year Radwanska crushed her for the loss of just three games. But Lisicki out-served Williams – quite something – to create one of the all-time sporting shocks, and it will take all of Radwanska’s tennis nous to overcome the German’s immensely strong game.
“I think the bigger pressure is in the first week,” countered Radwanska. “Quarter-final is the minimum (requirement) especially when you’re seeded. Now I’m in the semis I’m more relaxed – it’s already a great result. Having been in a Grand Slam final is very good experience. It helps for sure that it’s not the first time.
“Sabine and I have known each other since the juniors. We played some team championship in Poland that was under-10 or under-12. I can’t remember who won. Then time flies, and suddenly we are here playing the semi-final of a Grand Slam.”
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.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all