Two-time Australian Open semifinalist Agnieszka Radwanska lost to Tsvetana Pironkova in their last encounter in the fourth round of the French Open last year. The Pole ensured that a repeat of that wasn't on the cards.
Radwanska is one of the favourites to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy, and like defending champion Angelique Kerber, she proved her title credentials by coming through a tough test in three sets.
Radwanska cruises in the opening set
Pironkova won the coin toss and elected to serve, the Bulgarian held to 15 easily, and Radwanska responded in the following game to hold serve to love. However, in the third game of the match, the duo traded in a baseline rally. The Pole created the first break point of the match at 30-40. A good first serve down the middle from Pironkova saved the break point. Moreover, Radwanska played a drop shot, Pironkova retrieved it but a volley winner at the net created a second break point chance for the Pole. The third seed broke with a sweet backhand return down the line to lead 2-1.
Radwanska consolidated the break by mixing up the play with a sliced drop shot, forcing the forehand error from Pironkova, and a forehand smash winner at the net. The two-time semifinalist continued to pile on the pressure on the world number 64. Radwanska extended the rally, leading to 20 shots ending with a backhand unforced error in the net from the Bulgarian. However, Pironkova responded to get the game levelled at 15-15, but the consistent Pole, won three consecutive points to get the double break leading 4-1.
The third seed won seven consecutive points in a row, drawing another forehand unforced error from Pironkova to lead 5-1. The Bulgarian was serving to stay in the opening set, starting the game with a backhand winner down the line. The Pole went on to win two more consecutive points by sending down a thunderous return on Pironkova's second serve, and a forehand winner in the corner. Pironkova sent down an ace to level the game at 30-30 but Radwanska's first set point was created with her trademark crouch shot volley winner at the net.
Moreover, Pironkova saved the first set point with Radwanska sending a poor forehand unforced error out wide. The former world number 35 managed to get a game point from Radwanska's poor drop shot attempt, smashing the ball into the corner. However, a forehand error coupled with Radwanska's forehand winner down the line handed the Pole a second set point.
The third seed took the opening set with a pressured backhand crosscourt, forcing the error from Pironkova, taking the opening set in 28 minutes.
Pironkova fights back to take the second set
Radwanska started the second set poorly, dropping her serve to love with three consecutive backhand unforced errors, and Pironkova's backhand winner crosscourt gave the Bulgarian her first break of the match. The 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist upped her game, by consolidating the break to love with a backhand winner down the line. Radwanska was clearly rocked, as Pironkova would win nine consecutive points on the bounce. However, Radwanska was immediately finding herself in trouble as at 30-40 in the third game, Pironkova had the chance for the double break.
Unfortunately, a missed smash down the line got the game back to deuce but a forehand unforced error from Radwanska handed Pironkova to chance to get the double break. Once again, Pironkova missed another smash. Pironkova missed the opportunity with a forehand unforced error, and an ace out wide got Radwanska got the scoreboard, trailing 2-1.
There was a sense of inevitability in the fourth game of the second stanza with the effects lingering of missing those break points, clearly played on Pironkova's mind. The Pole broke to love, courtesy of an amazing hot dog shot, leaving Pironkova stranded at the net to get the game at 0-30. A failed drop shot and a forehand unforced error from Pironkova restored the match at 2-2.
However, Radwanska's game continued to spring more unforced errors that were non-existent in the opening set. A forehand unforced error in the net, allowed Pironkova to restore her break advantage to 15 and lead 3-2. Moreover, for the third consecutive time in the match, there was a break with Radwanska applying pressure in the sixth game. A sliced backhand lob winner, followed by a failed drop shot and two double faults in the game handed the break back to Radwanska.
Once again, Radwanska was unable to hold serve, and take a commanding lead in this match. More unforced errors sprung from Radwanska's racquet, and at 30-30, Pironkova created another break point by wrong-footing the Pole. A tame backhand unforced error out wide, allowed Pironkova to break and lead 4-3.
Pironkova takes the advantage
The run of breaks was finally ended in the eighth game with Radwanska losing a backhand unforced error in the net in a 24-shot rally, another forehand unforced error in the net, a backhand winner down the line from Pironkova and a forehand error that sailed long from the Pole allowed the Bulgarian to lead 5-3.
Radwanska had the task of serving to stay in the second set, which she did easily to 15, quickly, applying the pressure on Pironkova, to see if she could serve out the second set. The third seed began the game brightly with an aggressive forehand winner at the net. However, two good serves from Pironkova gave her a 30-15 lead. The Bulgarian served an untimely double fault for the third time in the match, nonetheless, a forehand error from Radwanska, handed Pironkova her first set point.
A tame backhand unforced error from Pironkova gave Radwanska a small reprieve. However, a sliced backhand winner down the line created a second set point chance. The Bulgarian took it with a backhand error in the net from Radwanska's racquet.
Radwanska avoids the upset
The good news for Radwanska what that she would be serving first in the final set, meaning all of the scoreboard pressure would be on Pironkova. The Pole continued to mix up her play with a drop shot winner with Pironkova played on the baseline and a first serve out wide, to hold serve in the final set leading 1-0.
Immediately, Radwanska took the initiative in the deciding set by breaking Pironkova's serve to love due to Pironkova's fourth double fault of the match handing Radwanska a 2-0 lead. Pironkova was searching for the immediate break back, and she got out to a 15-30 lead, getting the better of Radwanska in an 18 shot rally by cutting down the angles, finishing the point off with a volley winner at the net.
However, Radwanska would consolidate the break with more errors springing from Pironkova's racquet. It was vital that Pironkova would hold serve in the fourth game but more backhand unforced errors, helped Radwanska, build a 15-40 lead. A smash winner from the former world number 35, saved the first break point, only delaying the inevitable with Radwanska finding a forehand return winner down the line to get the insurance break leading 4-0.
An uncharismatic game from Radwanska in the fifth game, handed Pironkova one of the breaks back with the Bulgarian stepping into the court to apply pressure on Radwanska, and a forehand unforced error in the net from Radwanska, meant her lead was cut to 4-1.
Furthermore, Pironkova was her own enemy as punishing forehands from Radwanska, forced the error from Pironkova and a fifth double fault, allowed the third seed to get to a 0-30 lead. However, Pironkova got the better of Radwanska in an entertaining point with the former Wimbledon finalist's smash being poor, allowing Pironkova to get a drop shot, Radwanska retrieved it but a backhand volley winner at the net got the game to 15-30. However, the third seed would re-assert her authority by coming out on top in a 22-shot rally with a forehand winner placed in the corner, and a return of serve, trickling over the net, re-established Radwanska's double break advantage.
The third seed was serving for the match with a little cause of concern, as Pironkova got a forehand winner down the line, followed by a good return drawing the unforced error from Radwanska to get a 15-30 lead. Moreover, a backhand drop shot winner, and a backhand winner down the line brought up the first match. Radwanska didn't hesitate with an ace out wide, to win the match, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 in 1 hour and 44 minutes.
Radwanska got 60 per cent of her first serves in, winning 57 percent of the points on her first serve, and 59 percent on her second serve. The Pole had produced 28 winners and committed 21 unforced errors. In contrast to Pironkova, the Bulgarian had 22 winners and committed 32 unforced errors. Radwanska also converted eight out of 12 break point chances that she created, which was key to her victory.
Next for Radwanska in the second round
The two-time Australian Open semifinalist will face Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the second round. The 34-year-old Croat will be in the second round in Melbourne for the first time in 19 years. Radwanska leads their head-to-head 2-0, and both times, she won the first set, 6-4, Lucic-Baroni would retire in the second set.