America’s Venus Williams recently defeated France’s Marion Bartoli to claim her fourth Wimbledon title, one of many that she and her younger sister Serena have captured. The next day the 16-year-old Urszula Radwanska of Krakow defeated America’s Madison Brengle to win the junior Wimbledon crown, even though she lost the first set and first three games of the second. She won her first major trophy by taking 12 games in a row. Urszula’s older sister, Agnieszka, took the junior Wimbledon title two years ago, and has begun winning on the regular circuit.
There’s little wonder, then, that some tennis fans are talking about the Polish Williams sisters. Although the Krakow sisters haven’t achieved a tenth of what the California sisters have, there are similarities in their backgrounds. The most important perhaps is that their coach is also their father. Robert Radwanski has developed his daughters’ talent the way that Richard Williams did for Venus and Serena. He earned his living for several years as a tennis coach in Germany, where the 2007 junior Wimbledon winner was born. The sisters don’t complain about their training being too hard but their father admits that on the court there’s little room for negotiation. They do what he says, the same way the Williams sisters do with their father.
Another similarity between the Krakow sisters and the Williams sisters is that they are only two years apart in age. Agnieszka is 18 and Urszula 16 while Venus is 27 and Serena 25. Urszula, or Ula, not only won the junior girls singles tournament at Wimbledon, but also teamed with Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win the doubles. Richard Williams reportedly has said that Urszula has even more potential than her older sister. Right now, however, Agnieszka, or Isia, is much better known among international tennis fans. During the two years since her junior Wimbledon victory, she has soared from 320th in the World Tennis Association rankings to 33rd. Now, she’s only three places from the highest ranking a Polish woman has ever achieved. Magdalena Grzybowska was ranked 30th 10 years ago before a serious injury ended her promising career.
Agnieszka Radwanska has already won matches against some of the world’s elite players, including Venus Williams in Luxembourg a year ago. Her 2007 highlight was a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Switzerland’s Martina Hingis in the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where she reached the fourth round. She has also defeated the Russians Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementeva. Her biggest achievement in the five Grand Slam tournaments she has entered was reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2006. She lost 2-6, 2-6 to Belgium’s Kim Clijsters there. The Grand Slams are Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the French Open.
The showing that Agnieszka made at Wimbledon and in her other 2006 tournaments led to the WTA naming her its rookie of the year. She has achieved this early success on the regular circuit despite the distraction of school. During this year’s J&S Cup in Warsaw, one of two WTA tournaments in Poland, Agnieszka had to travel between her matches back to Krakow to take final exams. Last weekend she won her first major International Tennis Federation tournament in Biella, Italy, earning 70 ranking points.
Robert Radwanski is proud of his daughters’ success but has said matter-of-factly that it’s just beginning. His daughters aren’t going to lose their heads over their early success, he said in a recent interview with the Gazeta Krakowska. What they’ve achieved has been great, he said, but a lot of hard work and a long way in professional tennis awaits them in the next 10 to 15 years.
As for whether the Radwanska sisters can achieve what the Williams sisters have, it’s too late already for Agnieszka to match one of Venus Williams’ accomplishments, playing in a Grand Slam final at 17 (the U.S. Open of 1997). Urszula has another year to match that achievement, although it will be very difficult. On the other hand, Venus Williams didn’t start playing in Grand Slam finals regularly until she was 20, and the Radwanska sisters certainly have a shot at that.
If the Krakow sisters continue their success, it’s likely to increase Polish youngsters’ interest in tennis, a sport that has yet to become popular here. That’s what happened in Formula One racing when Poland’s Robert Kubica became a star.
Meanwhile, the Radwanska sisters are making a great living on the prize money they are winning. In the first half of 2007 Agnieszka earned $200,000. She has $380,000 in earnings overall. Urszula has made less than a tenth of what Agnieszka has earned, but she has yet to hit the regular circuit. The money can be considered a reward for the years of hard work the girls put in to get to where they are. After school they trained and trained and trained, and then did their homework.
Though their future seems bright, they are probably aware of the fact that another Krakow star, Aleksandra Olsza, won a junior’s Wimbledon title then found little success on the regular circuit. Better that they follow the example of Jadwiga Jedrzejowska. She reached the Wimbledon finals in 1937, the only Polish man or woman to do it.