Watching Azarenka and Radwanska this week, was like watching the two polar ends of a spectrum. Let’s call this spectrum the power/finesse spectrum. Let’s also established the fact that just about all the WTA players are polarized between the two ends. There are hardly any players in the middle. This brings about the question of choice. If you were coaching an up and comer today, how would you shape their game? Would you mold them into a power player like Azarenka or a finesse player like Radwanska?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of an out and out power hitter like Azarenka. That sort of game has never struck me as vintage tennis. I will not deny the fact that her game has been effective throughout her career. She’s got two AO titles to prove it. There’s just something about power baseline tennis that doesn’t do it for me. It lacks dimension. I believe tennis is at it’s best when both players are using the angles, moving each other around, incorporating the deft touches while periodically injecting that explosive pace that leaves the spectators gasping in their seat. But that’s just me. Realistically speaking, power tennis has been the dominant tennis playing style in the WTA for quite some time now. Sharapova, Davenport, the Williamses, Clijsters, Kvitova, Li Na, Azarenka are players who have two things in common. They are multiple Grand slam champions, and they all play the power baseline game. The problem with the power baseline game? It’s just one wrinkle. So on a day the shots aren’t finding the lines, there is no fall back plan.
On the other hand, you’ve got the finesse players such as Radwanska, who have not won a slam yet, but play a much more traditional brand of tennis, that is very appealing to the eye. They don’t try to outhit the other player, they try to outplay and to some extent outwit the other player. Where a match between power baseline players feels like a first person shooter game, a match involving a finesse player feels like a chess contest. Before you go saying I’d rather take results over appeal, I’d like to jog your memory about a certain finesse player, of Belgian origins. Justin Henin. Like Radwanska, she was lightly built, and covered the court gracefully. Like Radwanska, she also had to deal with Serena, Venus and a host of other power players vying for Grand Slam titles as well. Like Radwanska, Henin had a very tactical game and she was comfortable stalking the baseline or attacking the net. Unlike Radwanska, Henin took an impressive haul of seven Grand Slam titles, home.
The difference? Henin had a weapon. Okay I’ll rephrase. Henin had weapons. Both her forehand and backhand were dangerous when she was on. That was most of the time. Her forehand, in particular her inside out forehand, was a go to point ending shot that was both feared and respected in the WTA. It is important to note that much like Radwanska, Henin didn’t have a killer first serve. It was primarily a set up shot, used to put her in an offensive position. However, what she lacked in power, she made up for in placement and decent pace, so that her serve couldn’t be attacked the way Radwanska’s is. Maybe the Polish player is beginning to figure that out. In Shenzhen Radwanska was slightly more offensive than I’ve seen her in the past, willing to strike on chosen opportunities rather than outmaneuver all the time. Meanwhile, in Brisbane, Azarenka was back at her measured powerful best and simply overwhelmed Kerber in a shootout match.
Which game to model after? Power or Finesse? Honestly writing, I’d much rather mold a finesse player with a go to weapon, than a power player with very little finesse.