Radwanska hoping year-end title an omen for 2016
SINGAPORE -- The tears and sniffles told the story.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd in Singapore on Sunday, Agnieszka Radwanska couldn't hold back her emotions.
"It's the biggest day in my life," she said shortly after winning the season-ending WTA Finals trophy, which, without a doubt, is the most prestigious title of her career.
The fifth-seeded Radwanska became the first player to leave the round-robin stage of the year-enders with a losing record to end up as champion. She did so by polishing off fourth-seeded Petra Kvitova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in a very competitive match.
Until this week, Radwanska hadn't competed with the game's top-tier players with much success. But after losing her two opening matches in Singapore, she beat three successive top-five opponents: No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 3 Garbine Muguruza and No. 5 Kvitova.
"This is definitely a different tournament than any others," Radwanska said. "I think maybe I didn't really expect it at all. First of all, to be here, secondly, that I went to the semis, maybe with a little bit of luck as well. And then the final and winning the trophy. That's something I didn't even imagine."
It's been a long road to winning one of the five most important tournaments in the game for Radwanska, who first dazzled the tennis world in the juniors, winning the Wimbledon girls' trophy in 2005 and the Roland Garros girls' prize in 2006.
After Radwanska's captured two WTA Premier Mandatory-level tournaments -- 2011 Beijing and 2012 Miami -- she looked like big moments were coming her way. A few months after her Miami victory, she journeyed to the Wimbledon finals, but as hard as she tried against Serena Williams, Radwanska, who came to the court sick that day, fell short in three sets.
Nevertheless, she's maintained a consistent presence among the top 10 since 2011 and has ranked as high as No. 2. Radwanska will end this year as the No. 5-ranked player -- this after a rather inauspicious start to the season.
Radwanska hired super-coach Martina Navratilova on a part-time basis last December. However, during their four-month stint together, the Pole's ranking dropped from No. 6 to No. 9 and her win-loss record was a disappointing 13-11. Radwanska had just two wins against top-20 players.
By the end of April, they agreed to terminate the partnership. Navratilova said she didn't understand how the demands of the position, and Radwanska realized she's more comfortable working solely with longtime coach Tomasz Wiktorowski.
"I think that was a little bit bad timing as well," Radwanska said. "I didn't really feel good in the beginning of the season, and it was tight schedule for me and for her. We suddenly decided together it's not going to work for both of us."
Despite the unimpressive beginning to Radwanska's season, she saw improvements as the season progressed. She left the US Open three spots out of qualifying position for the WTA Finals but won titles in Tokyo and Tianjin, China, to help earn passage into Singapore.
"Doesn't matter how you start; matters how you end," she said, smiling.
The slower courts suited Radwanska's game in Singapore, especially against a power player like Kvitova. Radwanska thrives on remarkable court coverage, point construction and crafty angles. While her serve isn't speedy, her placement is precise. It's no wonder her cohorts nicknamed her "La Proffessora."
The burning question now is whether Radwanska can keep the momentum going in 2016.
While many expect the next Grand Slam champion to break through to come from the youthful pool of Muguruza, Madison Keys or Belinda Bencic, the WTA Finals victory could be the confidence-booster Radwanska, a 17-time title winner, needs to win a major.
It's worth noting the last time the season-ender crowned player without a Grand Slam title on her resume was in 2005 when Amelie Mauresmo took the honors. The following year, Mauresmo won the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
A good omen for Radwanska? She sure hopes so.