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By Chris Oddo
Photo Credit: Clive Rose/ Getty
Agnieszka Radwanska Clive Rose Wimbledon Final 12
(July 7, 2012)— She may have lost in today's final, but the first Polish player to reach a Grand Slam final in 73 years certainly made a strong statement at Wimbledon.

Even her opponent, the accomplished Serena Williams, took time to acknowledge that fact. “You guys should give her another round of applause,” Serena said, moments after slipping past Radwanska in a tricky three-set final. “She’s amazing.”

The Centre Court faithful responded with a roar that didn't want to die.

It was a moment of heartfelt and well-deserved appreciation for Agnieszka Radwanska, a player who has made inspiring strides in 2012, winning three titles and now reaching a Grand Slam final and the No. 2 ranking in the world.

Radwanska, 23, had never advanced past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam until this week, but her stingy effort against Angelique Kerber in Thursday's semifinal proved she's capable of a big-match mentality.

That bulldog mentality was on display against Serena Williams today, as Radwanska engineered a determined comeback to nearly pull off one of the biggest upset shocks in Wimbledon history.

That she fell short doesn’t in any way diminish her accomplishments for the fortnight.

Not known for power, there is an underlying spirit of industriousness in Radwanska's game. She finds countless and creative ways to defuse her bigger, stronger opponents with whipsmart strokes and freakishly soft hands; she curls and flicks balls into corners, dangles slices that cling to the grass; she smacks down-the-line backhand winners and opens up angles with the best of them. And while she may lack power, Radwanska does not lack a finishing touch.

She's also a classic underdog. Radwanska is 123 pounds dripping wet, and she's not blessed with the grace of a Justine Henin or the snap of a Monica Seles. Still, she regularly scores knockout blows against the girls that Mary Carillo once coined as "Big Babes."

In an age of academy-trained baseline bashers, Radwanska is the antidote to the hyper-physical, repetitive brand of tennis employed by many of today's young phemons. She's an improvisational player that makes tennis look creative. There is a back-yard feel to her strokes, and her personality shows up when she swings.

Today, playing for her first Grand Slam title, she was undaunted by the aura of Centre Court--a task that has been proved to be Herculean for many.

In the end, when the dust settled and Williams had stamped the match with her latest claim to greatness, Radwanska let loose the type of emotion that has made her so endearing to so many fans this season.

"I'm still shaking so much," said the down-to-earth Radwanska, elated in spite of the defeat, and close to tears. "I think I had the best two weeks of my life."

It was a rare glimpse into the heart of an athlete, as genuine as they come.

Players like to talk tough about how coming in second place is akin to coming in last,  but in Radwanska's case you can throw that faulty logic out the window.

For Radwanska and for Poland, second place was a huge victory. It should be celebrated as such.

 

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