Sporting Life

Patience and persistence bring victory against power

In 1980, Shakuntala Devi, a mathematical Merlin from India, correctly multiplied two random 13-digit numbers and recited the solution - noted her New York Times obituary - "in only 28 seconds". These days, when it comes to computing speed, angle and spin in a fraction of a second, there are few quicker thinkers than Agnieszka Radwanska. Yesterday she did not merely beat Petra Kvitova, she also solved her.

The person who wins a tournament is always the right winner but Radwanska yesterday seemed a particularly appropriate champion. She was ranked one place lower than Kvitova, was 2-6 in head-to-heads, had two Grand Slam titles fewer and was nine centimetres shorter. Yet the smaller player won because she was the most steadfast. Patience has got to be the favourite game on her phone.

The final was entertaining, for it was a collision of diverse styles. Radwanska guides the ball and asks questions with her shots; Kvitova slaps the ball as if it were an errant pupil. The Pole's game is a stew of spins, the Czech's game is unflinchingly flat. Her coach David Kotyza recently told the writer Courtney Nguyen that when he first saw Kvitova he thought: "Hey, we can read the side of the ball. It's not rolling at all! What does it mean? Where are you from? Is it a magic club?"

Radwanska was ranked one place lower than Kvitova, was 2-6 in head-to-heads, had two Grand Slam titles fewer and was nine centimetres shorter. Yet the smaller player won because she was the most steadfast.

But if the Pole studies tourism for her degree, the Czech's mind travels too much. This year Kvitova took months off to rediscover her passion and yesterday she kept taking journeys in and out of the match. In the first set, she shoved forehands wide, hammered backhands into the net and mangled smashes. One stat tells the tale of the set: She had 16 unforced errors, the frugal Radwanska had one. The Pole led 6-2.

At 3-1 in the second set, Radwanska was in command when suddenly Kvitova came alive. It's as if she plays to music in her head and suddenly the song had come back on again. From trailing 1-3 to leading 4-3 she produced a sequence of brilliance: Forehand return winner, forehand winner, ace, ace, big forehand. Radwanska might as well have sat in the stands and just watched.

A blind sports fan I once met, who travelled to tournaments, enjoyed the unique atmosphere of stadiums where he got to listen to sports' audible beauty. In cricket and tennis, for example, this meant he could hear timing: that uniquely pleasant and perfect sound that emerges when ball meets instrument correctly. He would love Kvitova, for her game has a recognisable sound. It's like being at a whip convention.

Having broken Radwanska twice to win the second set, Kvitova broke again to lead 2-0 in the third. Of course, she used her forehand. By now both had the crowd roaring, the Czech because she hit winners with a lazy ease, the Pole because she chased down balls to create.

Radwanska was reeling but only temporarily, for she persists for a living and comes from the Justine Henin "be-smart-if-you're-short" school of tennis. This year Henin, shorter than even Radwanska, said that smaller players had to use their speed, polish their technique and think differently.

But, added the Belgian, "you have to work physically probably twice harder than the others because you have to compensate in a way or another". Which was just fine by Radwanska: If by tournament's end Kvitova had run 7.56km, then she had run 11.26km.

And so Radwanska kept pushing and Kvitova strangely fell apart. The Czech has an authoritative serve and yet the Pole won the final set 6-3 by breaking her four times. Then she simply broke down.

Later, in the press room, Radwanska kept stealing glances at her trophy. Just to confirm it was real. On it soon will be engraved her name but on her shirt already was written a word. It said "Workday". It is the name of a sponsor but it seemed to encapsulate perfectly her Sunday. By working hard and beautifully all day, she had made her greatest day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Patience and persistence bring victory against power'. Print Edition | Subscribe