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HOLDING COURT

Agnieszka Radwanska: I hope my hard work on clay will now start to surface

In the lead-up to the Oct 21-30 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, reigning champion Agnieszka Radwanska will pen columns exclusively for The Straits Times. This is the first of the monthly series.

This may surprise people, but when I first started to play tennis on the WTA Tour I really struggled on hard courts because I had never played on them as a kid.

I grew up on clay. That was the only surface we had at home in Poland and all of our tournaments were on clay. Every junior tournament was on clay and I was very comfortable on the surface when I was growing up.

Then everything changed when I started playing on Tour.

Once I started playing more tournaments outside Poland it felt like 90 per cent of my matches were on hard courts.

Knowing that most of the points on Tour would come on hard courts, I changed my game to get the best results on that surface.


Agnieszka Radwanska says that clay is not her favourite surface, even though she grew up playing on it in Poland. The world No. 3, who lost in the first round of the French Open last year, is looking forward to making amends at Roland Garros this year. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

I've won two WTA titles on clay, but the last one came almost four years ago in Brussels. I actually beat Simona Halep in that final and she made the French Open final just two years ago. See? I'm not as bad on clay as people think!

The tennis season lasts more than 10 months of the year and we play on hard courts for seven of those months. Of the four Grand Slams, two are on hard courts (Australian Open and US Open). Our season ends with the biggest WTA tournament of the year, the WTA Finals, which is also on hard courts. Winning that title last year was the highlight of my career. So being good on hard courts is necessary to build a good career on Tour.

The biggest issue for me on clay is movement. I don't really like sliding on clay. But I like sliding on hard court! Isn't that funny?

Sometimes I get frustrated that I can't do the same on clay as I can do on a hard court. But it's not really a mental block. It's just one of those things where not everything that is working on a hard court works on clay.

On a hard court you can slide but you can also stop quickly and change direction. I can't do that on clay. On clay I slide into the corner to hit a ball and before I can even stop and run the other way, I see my opponent has hit the ball to the other corner. How can that happen? I'm still sliding the opposite way!

That's what makes a huge difference - the running. To play my best tennis I need to be able to cover the court and run. When you take that away from me, it's hard.

Some people think I have a mental block on clay because the results have not come. Sometimes your style of game just doesn't suit a surface. Someone might be really good on clay and not good on grass. I'm not as good on clay but I love grass. Everyone has their weaknesses and favourite surfaces.

Sometimes I get frustrated that I can't do the same on clay as I can do on a hard court. But it's not really a mental block. It's just one of those things where not everything that is working on a hard court works on clay.

Even though clay is not my favourite surface, I will make up for it in a few weeks when the Tour moves to grass. My style is great on grass, where we now play for five weeks of the year. That's where I made my first Slam final, at Wimbledon in 2012.

Of course I want to do well at the French Open and have the right preparation. But I'm definitely not going to play many tournaments on clay. I'm trying to cut the clay court season and maybe add one more tournament on grass instead. I want to do well but I still don't want to play that much on clay.

Right now I'm No. 3 in the world and in the next few months there may be a chance for me to be No. 1.

I have no points to defend at the French Open because I lost in the first round, so I can only gain points in Paris. I am definitely going to try and use that chance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'I hope my hard work on clay will now start to surface'. Print Edition | Subscribe