Right; let’s go through the list: sunscreen, check; hat, check, water bottle, check; two weeks’ supply of sandwiches, check; sleeping bag, check; tent, check. OK, I think we are ready to head out on court to watch Agnieszka Radwanska take on Li Na in the quarterfinals. This one could go on for days.
When it comes to accuracy and consistency, Li seems to have rediscovered hers this past week while Radwanska has been flying high on such attributes all year. The Pole is not only unbeaten this season, collecting the titles in Auckland and Sydney as she made her way to the Open, she has yet to drop a set. Radwanska is on a roll and it looks like nothing can stop her.
To reinforce the point, she managed to beat Li on her way to the Sydney silverware, a 6-3 6-4 clumping of the former French Open champion. She may have had to work a little harder than she had in previous rounds but it was still a straight sets walloping, fair and square. Here in Melbourne, Radwanska has been getting better with every round and on Sunday night, she absolutely marmalised Ana Ivanovic, not that she is letting herself get too carried away with all this success.
“I think no one is unstoppable, to be honest,” she said. “This is sport; this is tennis. But it's just great feeling I can really play my best tennis from the beginning of the year. It's been a great three weeks so far. Playing on the really high level is always good, especially in the Grand Slam. Already 13 matches not even losing a set. I hope I can keep going three more.”
The next one, though, she knows will not be easy. Radwanska and Li have played five times in the past six months, since Li started working with Justine Henin’s former coach Carlos Rodriguez and their rivalry has been nip-and-tuck (Li is just ahead 3-2 since August). The Chinese No.1 is a battler, a retriever and a doggedly consistent competitor when her confidence is high – and with Rodriguez to guide her, her confidence is growing week by week. This is Li’s first major quarterfinal since she won the French Open in 2011 and at last she is feeling like she is getting back to her best.
“We played so many times in the last months,” Radwanska said. “It's never easy playing against her. She's very consistent player and moving very well, serving well. She's always playing very solid tennis.
“I think I really have to play aggressive against her, definitely serving good, really playing my hundred per cent the best tennis; otherwise I'm not going to win, for sure.”
Most of her peers spent the off-season preparing for the rigours of the Australian summer by finding the hottest, steamiest place to practise and then working themselves to a standstill. Radwanska was having none of that. Heading back to Poland, she spent the Christmas break hitting with her dad, Robert, in the sub-zero conditions. Her only concession to the cold was to practise indoors (tennis on skis has yet to take off as a participation sport, even in Poland). But here in the heart of the Australian summer, she has hardly broken a sweat. They make ‘em tough in Krakow.
Robert only coaches Radwanska when she returns to Poland; on the road, it is Tomasz Wiktorowski who is in charge. He has been working one-to-one with Radwanska for the past 18 months, although he also moonlights by working with Poland’s Fed Cup team, and it is he who guided her to her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon last July. Once into that final, the debutante did herself proud, taking a set from Serena Williams before losing in three. To put that result into context, four weeks later, Maria Sharapova could only take one game from La Williams in the Olympic final. Serena was on fire last summer.
“Definitely I have more confidence after Wimbledon,” she said. “I think a major final is a little different final than any other tournament. Of course, I have a lot more confidence after two titles that I won in the last two weeks.”
As for how the match is likely to pan out, Radwanska did not offer much hope to those with a limited attention span. Neither she nor Li has any huge weapon with which to flatten the opposition so they must rely on speed, concentration and nous.
“I think in our matches it's not about the power on the serve,” she said. “I think we both have other shots, other type of games that we are good at. That's why, you know, even against the players that's serving 200 per hour, we still can be able to beat. Tennis is not about the serve only.”
By the sounds of it, you had better add a fluffy pillow and a pair of bed socks to that checklist before you venture out.