Agnieszka Radwanska bares it all

Radwanska likes to do at least 300 sit-ups in a single session. Alan Clarke for ESPN The Magazine

What do you like about your body?
AR: I feel fortunate that I can stay pretty lean without having to do too much gym work. With tennis, you have to play nearly every day, so I don't get to spend as much time in the gym as I would like. But for as long as I can remember I have been playing tennis, so I have a pretty active lifestyle.

If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
AR: My serving shoulder is quite susceptible to injury, so probably that. A bionic arm would be great for tennis!

What is your favorite thing you do to train?
AR: Running along the river in Krakow with my sister [WTA player Urszula Radwanska] is my favorite. Running can be quite tedious, so running with Ula makes it much more fun. We definitely motivate and spur each other on. When I'm hurting and tired, it's good to know she's in the same boat, so we can keep going together. I can't really remember any intense battles when we were younger, but there was a spell a couple of years ago where we kept drawing each other in tournaments, and that was awful. She's the last person I want to play against, and I'm sure she would say the same about me.

What is the one workout or exercise you can't live without?

AR: Sit-ups, for sure. I like to do more than 300 in a single session. That makes my stomach rock hard. But when I do them, I'm thinking, "I wish this were over" or "Now I can eat more chocolate."

What is the biggest challenge you face with your body?
AR: Playing lots of matches in a row. I went on a run earlier this year when I won two consecutive tournaments, then reached the quarters at the Australian Open, and I think I played 14 matches in a three-week period or something crazy like that. A run like that can really take its toll. During tournaments, I eat a lot of carbs like pasta and tend to go heavy on the veggies to boost my immune system in case I'm worn out. After a tournament, I take at least one day completely off from tennis. Shopping, getting a massage, and watching TV and movies are pretty high on my agenda. You can't beat a good "24" session with Jack Bauer.

You started tennis at an early age. What were some interesting or unusual training techniques your father used as you were growing up? AR: My dad used really cool teaching aids when we were kids. For example, before I was hitting with balls, I was hitting with balloons. My sister and I were both tiny kids. We were about half the size of the net when we started, so dad had us start with balloons because it was easier to get them up and over.

Also, I was encouraged to play all sports to make me a more well-rounded athlete and to improve things related to tennis, such as balance and hand-eye coordination. I used to ski and swim a lot, and I was on the school volleyball and soccer teams. Playing other sports was all about maintaining fitness and staying active, and it helped develop coordination. Skiing was my favorite, but I haven't done it in years because it's too dangerous while I'm playing. I can't wait to get back into it in a few years -- if I haven't forgotten how.

How much of your game is mental versus physical?
AR: The mental side of tennis makes up a large part of success or failure. You can see how physical some of the girls are today. It's no secret that I'm not as strong and powerful as some of the girls in the top five, but I try to stay lean and make up for it with creativity on the court. Creative tennis comes naturally to me; you can't really practice or learn it. When I'm playing a more powerful opponent, I try to use the pace of the opponent's ball rather than generate my own. If Serena's serving, I just hold the racket as tight as I can so it doesn't fly away!

What about your body would surprise us?
AR: Probably my eating habits. Unlike most players, who eat at least two hours before matches, I can eat a full meal and go straight out on the court. In fact, I prefer to do that. My usual routine is a plate of pasta 30 minutes before I'm due to go on court. If I don't, I end up starving midmatch. That habit dates back to when my dad used to pick me up from school and drive me straight to matches. We had no time for dinner, so I had to stuff myself in the car.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
AR: I've always been much smaller and slighter than my peers. When I played junior tournaments in Poland, I was always playing up an age group, so I was much younger and much smaller than the other kids. The joke used to be that if the wind blew too hard it would blow me away! But that never bothered me and wasn't a hindrance to my game. I was never intimidated by older girls and never thought about it. I was coached to focus 100 percent on my own game rather than get worked up about the opponent. And now, I believe I've gotten physically stronger every year I've been on the tour.

What would you define as your edge, mentally?
AR: I differentiate myself by being more instinctive and improvisational than anyone else. That part of my game comes pretty naturally, so I don't do too much to train for those situations. I think it developed when I was young. My dad emphasized drills to improve our touch and feel, dating back to the balloons. Even when we started with real balls, we spent hours playing against each other from within the service line or on smaller courts. I've always placed more emphasis on finesse rather than power.

What is the worst thing your body has been through?
AR: I've had two surgeries -- one on my foot and one on my hand -- that were pretty bad, but nothing compares to some of the sunburns I've gotten lying on the beach! Both injuries were just wear and tear from playing tennis for so many years. I had a great surgeon, so the actual surgery wasn't a bad experience for me -- it's the rehab that's a nightmare. You just feel helpless and frustrated that you can't play or train. But I owe a lot of credit to my surgeon and physio because I never missed a Grand Slam or a big tournament. They took care of me, and the offseason, even though it's pretty short, was enough time to recover.

What is your one must-have junk food?
AR: You can't beat a nice, home-cooked Polish meal. But also McDonald's cheeseburgers or cheesecakes from The Cheesecake Factory. I am proud to say I have tried every single one!

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