DUBAI // Krakow is a far cry from California in terms of capturing the imagination of tennis enthusiasts. But while Dubai crowds wait expectantly for what promises to be a defining moment of the first week of the Barclays Championships - a semi-final clash of the formidable Williams siblings - there was an intriguing prelude yesterday in the Sister Act stakes.
Polish family pride went on the line when Agnieszka Radwanska, who has risen steadily over the last year to break into the world's top 10, was drawn against her younger sister Urszula in the first round of the star-studded $2m (Dh7.35m) tournament. The youngsters are poles apart in the rankings but that counted for little as the qualifier Urszula dominated their first confrontation as professionals to sweep through 6-4, 6-3.
Sadly, however, Urszula's stunning triumph over a player ranked 110 places higher than her was seriously devalued because Agnieszka travelled from Paris fighting off a bout of sickness that seriously impaired her Centre Court mobility. "I said 'sorry' as we shook hands at the net," an embarrassed Urszula said after her comfortable passage into the second round. "Agnieszka just laughed at me and wished me luck.
"It's a little disappointing not to have met her when she was at her best but I have to be pleased to be in the next round. I was trying to focus on my game and I was trying to play my best and not think about anything else. I think I did it right." Urszula was flattered by suggestions that she and her big sister could one day fill the shoes of Venus and Serena Williams, who have amassed 17 grand slam titles and 72 tournament wins between them, but she lives in hope.
"It's nice that some people are comparing us to the Williams sisters, but they've had really great success since the beginning on the tour," she said. "So it is hard to say that we can follow in their footsteps but we'll see." Urszula, 18, knows that for any realistic comparisons to be made, she has to get herself into the same league as Agnieszka, 19, on the rankings front. "Maybe, I am a little bit jealous of my sister, but I'm happy that she's already had so much success," Urszula said about Agnieszka's four tournament wins. "I want to be like her and that is providing me with great motivation at this stage of my career."
The early departure of the ninth-seeded Agnieszka was surpassed when Svetlana Kuznetsova, the seventh seed, was sent packing by her Russian compatriot Elena Vesnina in a fluctuating encounter. Vesnina, a qualifier seeking to bridge a ranking gap of 68 places on the former US Open champion, totally controlled the final set of what had been a tight match to go through 6-4, 3-6, 6-0. The other show court offering in yesterday's afternoon session also looked like producing a surprise result when Ai Sugiyama, the experienced Japanese, began to turn around her battle with the 11-seeded Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli.
Bartoli, who reached the Wimbledon final two years ago, refused to be ruffled, however, and regained the form that had swept her through a one-sided first set to edge through 6-0, 4-6, 7-6. Amelie Mauresmo became the second player to withdraw from an event, featuring all of the world's top 10 players, when the former No 1 suffered ill-effects from her epic victory over Elena Dementieva in the Paris Open final on Sunday.
Mauresmo, 29, who had slipped to 24th in the rankings before her splendid victory in front of her home crowd, needed two hours and 38 minutes to get the better of Russia's Dementieva and opted against facing the 14th-seeded Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues last night. That opened the door for Slovenia's Andreja Klepac to come in as the tournament's second lucky loser after Ayumi Morita of Japan replaced Shahar Peer on Sunday. Morita seized her unexpected chance to bring about the departure of a third seeded player, Russia's Anna Chakvetadze, 7-5, 6-2.