Underclass leaders quietly advance to third round
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Agnieszka Radwanska has not dropped a set and is unbeaten in 11 matches in 2013.
On Wednesday the world number four comfortably dealt with the challenge of Irina-Camelia Begu to advance to the Australian Open third round. As did fifth seed Angelique Kerber, who beat Lucie Hradecka 6-3 6-1 in 69 minutes.
Despite her hot form Radwanska, who won both the Auckland and Sydney titles before the year's first grand slam, is not quite sure if she's playing as well as she can.
"I hope not," she said with a broad grin when asked if she was in the form of her life after the 6-3 6-3 win over Begu. "Then I can play even better.
"I'm definitely happy that I'm playing my best tennis at the start of the year which is always tough after a few weeks just practicing.
"(But) playing matches is always different and I didn't really expect to win that many matches in a row and hopefully I can keep going."
The Polish 23-year-old, who made her first grand slam final appearance last year when she lost to Serena Williams at Wimbledon, had entered the consciousness of the public at the Australian Open as one of the favorites of the underdogs.
A player likely to advance comfortably through the early rounds, then just as likely lose to someone below here in the rankings from the quarter-finals onwards, as she was to beat the three women ranked above her.
Champion Victoria Azarenka, world number two Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who twisted her ankle on Tuesday, all demolished their first round opponents with their powerful ground strokes and service game to the fore.
Radwanska is more of a grafter. Someone who plays superb defense, works her opponents around the court, mixes her pace and exploits the angles but does not overpower them.
On Wednesday, she did exactly what she needed to do against Begu.
She had initial problems with the ball toss of her serve as the giant television screen overhanging Rod Laver Arena was in her eyeline and was broken in the first game.
However she quickly adjusted and got into her stride, moving the tall Romanian around and running down everything to win the first set in 46 minutes.
In the second set, she was forced to scramble to overcome Begu, but again consistently put pressure on the Romanian and sealed the third round clash with either Heather Watson or Ksenia Pervak when she punched away a backhand volley.
"Today was a better match for sure," she said.
"It was a tight match but I played the (important) moments a little bit better and I managed to take it in two sets."
Kerber, like Radwanska, dropped the first service game of the match before clicking into gear in the second set and sealing a clash against either American wild card Madison Keys or Austria's Tamira Paszek with an ace.
The German left-hander has also quietly moved into contention in the grand slams, accumulating rankings points with a series of semi-final appearances.
She also won her first WTA career titles, in Paris and Copenhagen, last year and won eight times against women ranked in the top-10.
One of those victories was against Serena at Cincinnati - the only match the American has lost since Wimbledon last year - and the German is relishing going deeper at Melbourne Park than her previous best third round appearances in 2010 and 2012.
"I have a lot of confidence from the last year," she told reporters after her victory over Hradecka. "I beat a lot of good players and reached the top 10, top five.
"I'm just enjoy(ing) where I am right now."