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By Chris Oddo | Tuesday December 11, 2018

 
Agnieszka Radwanska

Tennis said goodbye to too many great ones in 2018, but this particular farewell stung more than the rest.

Welcome to the inaugural Tennis Now 25, where we celebrate the best popcorn moments of the 2018 tennis season, and award 25 “Popcorn Awards” to honor the most breathtaking and memorable performances of 2018.

About the Awards:


The #TN25 is designed not simply to remember the best matches, comebacks or Grand Slam performances. What we aim to accomplish here is to dig deeper into the archives so that we may celebrate some of the more offbeat and difficult-to-quantify performances.

This is our first time doling out these awards, and our attempt to veer away from the typical year-end rundown is genuine in that we feel it echoes the season of giving. What we aim to give is praise and thanks to those who made the season memorable on many levels...

Surely, with this being a new process for our editorial staff, there will be a few bumps along the road. Here and there we suspect that our valued readership may find a few things to disagree with (suprise!). If that’s the case, take to social media using the hashtag #TN25 and tell us what we missed or where we could have done better.

As the players like to say after they win their titles--none of this would have been possible without you guys, and that’s why we are going to put some of the awards to a Twitter vote in December, so stay tuned for that.


Now, our next installment…

Most Crushing Retirement: Agnieszka Radwanska

The Biggest Crush Award goes to the player who announced a retirement that ABSOLUTELY CRUSHED US THE MOST.

And the winner is... Agnieszka Radwanska.

Julien Benneteau.

Francesca Schiavone.

David Ferrer.

Lucie Safarova.

Max Mirnyi.

Annika Beck.

Karin Knapp.

Roberta Vinci.

Florian Mayer.

Mikhail Youzhny.

Bojana Jovanovski.

Marina Erakovic.

Ouch, that is a painful list of former stars that ended their careers in 2018. It breaks our heart when we see it. But none of those names stings as much as this one: Agnieszka Radwanska.

Why? Because not only was the Pole aka Ninja just 29 when she broke the news that she had played her last competitive tennis match last month, she’s also one of those rare diamonds in the rough that will simply never. be. replaced.

“When she had to be, she was the most imaginative player there ways,” wrote 18-time major singles champion Martina Navratilova in a piece for WTATennis.com last month—pretty high praise from one of the greatest to ever pick up a racquet.

Navratilova, who coached Radwanska for a brief spell in 2014 and 2015 added, in that same piece. “In matches, Radwanska would play the shot of the day, the shot of the month, the shot of the year. I think she made the highlight reel more often than any other player on the WTA Tour. She was quick on her feet and quick with her mind; she would just come up with stuff. She was hitting shots that people didn't expect, often even surprising herself. Then there would be times when her shot selection would not be ideal but so many times she would bail herself out by coming up with magic.”

We include those quotes just to be sure that it wasn’t just the fans that were blown away by “Ninja Magic!” on a regular basis. It was legends of the game. It was pundits. It was ATP players, WTA players, opponents, coaches and former coaches.

Everybody knew what Radwanska brought to the table. An endearing mixture of cat-like quickness, improvisational tactics and imagination that were second to none on a tennis court. The fact that she lacked the power to consistently overcome the most formidable forces in the women’s game in no way dilutes the enduring breathtaking quality of her greatness.

And that’s why we’re so shattered by the sudden departure of Radwanska from WTA draw sheets. Unlike Benneteau and Youzhny and Schiavone and Vinci, she had not even reached the age of 30. Those in the know are aware of the fact that 33 is the new 27 in tennis circles—there was plenty of brilliance on the horizon for Radwanska if she could have only found a way to get fit enough to play at her peak level again.

And unlike the aforementioned players, who all gave fans plenty of chances to drink in their talents and celebrate their departures, Radwanska’s retirement comes suddenly, at the close of a season that saw her only play 28 matches due to injuries. Suddenly, just like that one of the most incredible shotmakers of her generation—OF ANY GENERATION—is gone from the game.

Without fanfare, without a final magical run at a major, without one last title, one last jaw-dropping work of ninja genius: Just a note saying goodbye and a big hole on the WTA Tour where her footprints used to be.

Frankly, it’s devastating. Until a month or two ago, many were still holding out hope that Radwanska would return to form and once again go deep into the second week at Wimbledon, the event that she nearly won in 2012 and then again in 2013. Grass was the surface that really brought out the devilish underspinny side of Radwanska’s feel game. The place where she could use her guile and ability to turn a tennis court into a chess board at a moment’s notice.

One of the unmistakably beautiful moments of Radwanska’s career came at Wimbledon in 2012, when she lost the final to Serena Williams but was still so overcome with tears of joy when it was said and done. I’ll always remember that moment as a glimpse into Radwanska's heart and soul and how much she cherished her place in the game, how much that moment meant to her, just sharing the stage with Serena on the final Saturday of Wimbledon.

At the time we thought it was probably destined to be a stepping stone to her eventual breakthrough at a major. This was a player that was too remarkable and too talented not to win one of the big ones.

Unfortunately for Radwanska the fairy tale ending never came. When we learned of her retirement last month it hit like a ton of bricks. The news stings and it will for a while, until we realize, at some point down the road, that we were simply lucky to have a player of Radwanska’s ilk in our presence, and that we were blessed to drink in her brilliance when it was on offer.

 

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