x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Dubai Tennis Championships: Radwanska courts the fans' favour

The world No 4 is winning the popularity stakes ahead of rivals and aims to please them by retaining Dubai crown, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Feb 18, 2013 - Agnieszka Radwanska during an interview at the Dubai duty free tennis championship at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel. ( Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper )
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Feb 18, 2013 - Agnieszka Radwanska during an interview at the Dubai duty free tennis championship at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel. ( Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper )

Maria Sharapova is the most recognisable face in women's tennis, the highest-earning female in sports with multimillion-dollar endorsements and an ever-growing number of fans.

Serena Williams is the matriarch of the WTA Tour, back at the top of the rankings after her battles with injuries and illness.

And Victoria Azarenka is the player to beat, with a 14-0 record for the year and the Australian Open and Doha titles.

For the avid tennis fan, however, Agnieszka Radwanska features above the top three. The Pole, the world No 4, has been voted as the favourite singles player on the tour for two consecutive years by fans.

In the 2012 poll, the 23 year old received 42.8 per cent of the votes to finish ahead of China's Li Na (27 per cent), Sharapova (10.9 per cent) and Williams (5.1 per cent).

Radwanska's Facebook profile was also picked as the best by the fans, again by a large margin. She received 42.5 per cent of the votes to Sharapova's 24 per cent.

The 2012 Wimbledon finalist was also voted to the top in the best video category, for a clip where she breaks off an interview to chase a bee that is bugging her interviewer.

Maybe, it is gestures like these which make her a favourite among the fans. Radwanska does not know why, but she is delighted about it.

"I was very, very happy, especially last year when I heard that I am the fan favourite again," Radwanska said here yesterday as she geared up for the defence of her Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title.

"It really means a lot to me and I really appreciate it."

And why do the fans keep voting her as their favourite?

"I don't know," she said. "You have to ask the fans, and the ones who voted for me. I did not vote, by the way."

Perhaps her sister did. Urszula, younger by 21 months, is also a tour professional and they met in the opening round of Dubai in 2009, when the elder sibling lost 6-4, 6-3.

"Yes it happened but that was years ago," the elder Radwanska said. But there is no rivalry between the two.

They enjoy being on the tour together and spend even the off-season in each other's company. Last December, they took a holiday to Cuba.

"I think it's great to have your sister on the tour with you," Radwanska said, crossing her fingers as Urszula was on court at that time, trying to beat Kurumi Nara in the final round of qualifying for a place in the main draw.

The younger Radwanska did it comfortably, winning 6-3, 6-3.

"We are travelling so much and it's great to have some family with you during those 10 months. We're best friends and we're very close.

"To be honest we talk a lot … everything, except tennis. We really have to separate private life and professional life."

While her professional life is going great at the moment, Radwanska prides herself in being a well-rounded person. She is a WTA ambassador for Habitat for Humanity and is pursuing a degree in tourism.

"I'm happy that I know how to do something other than how to hit forehands and backhands," she once said.

At the moment, though, tennis is her primary focus and defending her Dubai crown is her immediate challenge. She has come up short against Williams and Azarenka in recent times and knows a difficult week lies ahead.

"I will try to not think about the pressure of defending my points and the title," she said. "It's always at the back of my head that I won here last year and, of course, I want to try and defend it.

"I came here to play my game, but it's always tough as there's always a strong tournament here. We will see. I will try and contend again.

"It's always good to win the tournament with those good girls in the draw. It makes it even better."