Agnieszka Radwanska and unheralded Grzegorz Panfil have shaken off the frost of a snowy Polish Christmas to give top seeds Poland an impressive opening-round victory over Italy on Saturday.
World No.5 Radwanska was made to work harder than the 6-2, 6-2 scoreline suggested over former top-tenner Flavia Pennetta, adapting better than her fellow European opponent to the hot change in conditions, while 288th-ranked Panfil started emphatically before Andreas Seppi retired sick while trailing 2-6, 2-2.
In the opening women’s match of Hopman Cup XXVI, both players took a while to find their range, but it was Radwanska who put in the more measured performance, admitting she was keen to make the loose shots start to disappear by the week’s end.
“Yeah I hope so. It’s different conditions, it’s outdoors. I’ve had a couple of weeks indoors … but for the first day it was really great,” she said.
“Actually I played well especially that I arrived last night and you know I slept like three hours. In Poland it was like 5 degrees.”
With both players struggling on serve early in the second set, Radwanska held strong, saving a string of break points before closing with a double break of serve.
“I think especially in the second set a couple of the games were long and tight and a couple of points went my way,” she said.
“The first part of the first set was not great so I was really trying to you know be as smart as I can in the second set.
“Also the serve was key … I was happy to finish that match in two sets.
Despite carrying a 4-1 head-to-head record into the match, Radwanska knew she would have to keep the flat-hitting Italian guessing, having seen the 31-year-old reach a surprise career-best US Open semifinal on hardcourts in 2013’s final major.
“She’s a very tough opponent, always playing very consistent tennis,” Radwanska said. “Nothing for free.”
But Radwanska was coming off her second best season to date, with a Wimbledon semifinal finish following up on her runner-up finish on the grass from the year prior.
Widely regarded as one of the players next most likely to break their grand slam duck, Radwanska said she was working on making improvements across the board in order to make that breakthrough.
“I was close twice at Wimbledon, being in the final and then this year in the semifinals, so you know, I have a couple of years to try,” she said.
“I’m really working on everything. It isn’t one shot or one thing I’m going on. I’m trying to progress on every shot and every detail in my tennis.”
Having produced the standout shot of the 2013 season in Miami when she quick-thinking 360-degree pivot to swat a winner against Kirsten Flipkens, Radwanska was looking to stake an early claim on the shot of the 2014 Hopman Cup when she almost landed a running tweener from the back of the court early in the second set.
“Yeah I was trying to do that. It was not my choice,” she laughed.
“It was a really good lob and I was really close to the net so it was close but maybe next time I’ll get it in.”
For Panfil, it was an unfortunate way to win on his Hopman Cup debut when his 25th-ranked opponent retired while down a set.
But it would not detract from the standard the left-handed Pole was producing, particularly on serve and off the forehand wing.
He started with a break of Seppi’s serve before ripping a backhand winner up the line and clocking consecutive aces on his way to a 2-0 hold.
Panfil held the advantage to close out the set 6-4 with a scorching forehand up the line.
Seppi’s day would last just four more games.
“I played really good in the first set. I was serving really, really good. I’m really happy because last three weeks I was playing indoor, practising in Poland, so it was a big difference between indoor and outdoor here in Australia where it was a little bit windy and sunny,” Panil said.
“I was trying to play really aggressive, serve good and then I was pushing my forehand so that was the key to winning.”
With the mixed doubles already awarded to Poland for a 3-0 sweet, 15-year-old Australian Oliver Anderson stepped in for Andreas Seppi, partnering Flavia Pennetta in a 6-2, 6-1 loss to the Polish pair.