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Environment right for Radwanska

Agnieszka Radwanska hopes to earn a doctorate one day in the field of tourism. For now, she's mastering the art of tennis, soaring to a career-high fifth in the rankings.

"I didn't really think that I could be No. 5 at the moment, at the beginning of the year," Radwanska, who was 14th at the end of last March, said in a telephone interview. "I'm very happy about that."

The bubbly Pole entered the BNP Paribas Open, better known as Indian Wells, as one of the tour's in-form players, doing so with her unorthodox, crafty and nearly extinct game that most observers love. She's often compared to Martina Hingis, and rightfully so. A big serve, big forehand combination isn't in her arsenal.

Radwanska was even named the fans' favorite on the WTA tour in 2011, quite the feat when considering she didn't win a Grand Slam or reach the semis of a major.

But the numbers suggest Radwanska, who celebrated her 23rd birthday last Tuesday, is getting closer. Since early in the U.S. Open Series, her record stands at a sizzling 42-9 with four titles. Further, Radwanska was one of only two players to take a set off Victoria Azarenka, the eventual champion and currently the most dominant women's player, at the Australian Open.

Radwanska's surge can be partly attributed to having more experience. Though young in age, she's been on the tour since she was 15.
Radwanska chalked up her 300th career victory last month with a typically resilient performance against the Canadian with Polish roots, Aleksandra Wozniak.

More relevantly, Radwanska stopped traveling with her dad, Robert, who was the central figure in her development and the development of Radwanska's younger, injury-hit sister, Urszula. Makes us wonder whether Caroline Wozniacki, Radwanska's good friend and the former No. 1, is taking note.

Radwanska admits she's more relaxed, although she continues to work with her dad when home in Poland. Poland's Fed Cup captain, Tomasz Wiktorowski, is now the main man on the road, and Team Radwanska added Borna Bikic this year. Bikic was in Jelena Dokic's corner at the 2009 Australian Open, when Dokic memorably landed in the quarterfinals, and has worked with the once-promising Karolina Sprem.

Radwanska said Wiktorowski hasn't made any major adjustments. She's not, for instance, all of a sudden crushing forehands or crunching serves.

The environment is better.

"I've known Tomasz for around 10 years, and it's good to have someone that knows how I'm practicing, what I'm doing, what I'm not doing, what I should do," Radwanska said. "It's great to have those kind of people that know me. We are good friends, we understand each other very well. We enjoy working with each other."

"He just wanted me to work hard, of course changing some things to make practice more interesting."

Such as?

"Just having a lot of different exercises," Radwanska added. "Not a huge difference."

That's all it takes sometimes to lead to an improvement.

"A new coach might be saying the same things as the old coach but in a slightly different way, and it kind of clicks with a player," Jo Durie, a former world No. 5 and now an analyst with Eurosport, said in an interview. "And sometimes you might get a little stale, I guess, doing the same thing with the same people over and over again."

But Radwanska likely needs to ameliorate even more to become a maiden Grand Slam winner and join Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Samantha Stosur and Li Na, who have all broken through in the past 10 months. She'll be encouraged, though, by the slew of new Grand Slam champions.

Radwanska and Azarenka already have met three times in 2012, and a fourth encounter looks likely in Indian Wells. Neutrals would be pleased, since Radwanska slammed Azarenka's on-court conduct in Doha and didn't take back her words in a media briefing prior to Indian Wells.

"It's a very interesting rivalry she has with Azarenka, especially after Doha," Durie said.

Despite testing Azarenka in Melbourne and Sydney, the bottom line is that Radwanska is 0-3, and she's a combined 1-10 lifetime against Kvitova and Maria Sharapova, who complete the top three in the rankings. When it comes to the biggest of hitters, then, Radwanska's court smarts, change of pace and trickery -- something she says she was born with -- just haven't been enough.

Radwanska can draw inspiration from Hingis, a five-time Grand Slam winner, although the success of the Swiss Miss came in an era where players weren't striking the ball as hard.

"Of course I'm going to work hard to [try to win a major], if not this year, maybe next year," Radwanska said.

Radwanska, according to Durie, needs to keep believing in her game. Downing Azarenka on Thursday, if they do meet, would add to the belief.

"Realistically, yes, I think she could win a Slam," Durie said.

Her many fans, not to mention Radwanska herself, would be delighted.