By Ros Satar, in Eastbourne

  • Agnieszka Radwanska continues her great return to the tour and faces Aryna Sabalenka
  • WTA tour ‘old hands’ Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki along with Radwanska share their thoughts on the newer generation
EASTBOURNE, UK – Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki weather the youngster-storm with Aryna Sabalenka making up the semi-final line-up.

 

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Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018

Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Agnieszka Radwanska, a former champion here, was back to winning ways with a win over the former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. Given her injury issues, and that this was her return to the tour in two months, few would have given her much chance to have made it this far. Even Radwanska herself only brought three dresses for the tournament, not expecting to be here for very long, but she finds herself up against an up and coming player in Aryna Sabalenka.

Aryna Sabalenka in the second round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018

Aryna Sabalenka in the second round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

The Belarusian stunned the No. 2 seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova to earn her spot in the semi-final. Having just turned 20, she has many of the traits of some of the other post-teens who are rising rapidly up the ranks.

The other three have been so long on the tour, that it is hard to think of them as anything other than veterans. So back in the day – were they as fearless as these youngsters or back in the first-time-around hey-day of the Williams era, were they over-awed by their opposition?

Radwanska said: “I think what’s changed, I think right now when I see those 17-, 18-year-old girls, they are very mature. They are playing really great tennis with experience. They play like they really have a lot of experience. They are really tough.

“I think a couple years ago when you see some 17-year-olds it was not at that level. So I think tennis is getting better and better and those girls are pretty solid. You really have to play 100%, because otherwise you never going to go off the court as a winner. So I think doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s tough.”

Not that long ago, and again in the midst of injuries, people were writing Radwanska off. While her clever use of angles and precision tennis was captivating to watch, against the younger power-hitters, she seemed to be losing ground. But this break and confidence-building winning streak has given her a new found sense of belonging, back and mixing it with all sorts.

She continued: “I think there are a lot of players still playing that kind of [power-game] tennis. But also, I’m not going to change my game. Even if I wanted to, there is no chance I’m going to hit as powerful as the other ones.

“So that’s the way I play. I can always, you know, try to be more aggressive on the court, but I never gonna serve or, you know, hit a forehand like those couple of girls bombing those balls.

“So, I think there are so many players on the tour, and you can really see a lot of styles. For sure, there are a lot of good ones that are also playing this kind of tennis, as well.”

 

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Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018

Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis PhotographyOn the other side of the draw, both Caroline Wozniacki (who defeated Ashleigh Barty) and Angelique Kerber (who beat Daria Kasatkina) also reminisced about their younger days. Wozniacki had the easier of the quarter-finals today with a 6-4 6-3 win over the Aussie.

Talking though about the younger days and when she was starting out, she said: “I think we were fearless in the way of we were always competing and competitors. But I think we would always have that respect and we knew our place. You’re playing Serena, Venus, somebody who had been on the tour for a long time, and I think there was always that respect of ‘we know we’re new to this game and we’re showing the respect of you having been here for a long time and we’re just getting there.’

“So I think our fighting spirit has always been there, but I think there was maybe a little bit more of a, you know, you go first, in a changeover. Now I think everyone just fights for themselves, every life for its own.”

Wozniacki achieved a milestone of her own in finally winning a Grand Slam title, having hit the No. 1 spot earlier I her career. There is little for her to prove as she faces the younger generation.

“I think it’s like everything – it goes into generations, and we have been in the game for a long time. Being on tour since 2005, so it’s been a long time for me. It’s inevitable that eventually there will be young ones coming up. But once I see a year 2000, that’s when I start thinking, you know, it’s really young (smiling).”

 

Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018

Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Nature Valley International, WTA Eastbourne 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

She will face good friend Kerber who met her sometime nemesis Kasatkina, and found herself struggling to get on terms with the youngster. On this occasion though she got the better of the Russian, and despite jokingly batting away an innocuous question about the football – she too had some thoughts about playing the younger generation:

“I think it’s changed a little bit to be honest. When I was this age I think of course you have a lot of more respect especially when you played against top players the first time. And you have nothing to lose, you know you have to play your best tennis to have a chance to win the matches.

“I think if you play now against really young players you can expect that they will play one of her best matches, because this is the only chance they have actually. It’s always not so easy if you play against a youngster because they are going out there they know what to do and they have a lot of confidence right now so it’s never easy but we are now in the stage where we have a lot more opponents that they are younger, they are coming now and I think it’s just the way it is.”

With Sabalenka perhaps not as well-known as maybe players who have made an impact this year such as Naomi Osaka and Kasatkina, Kerber felt it was just as exciting a time for fans as well as the WTA in general to have new blood in the mix.

She continued: “I think it’s [an] exciting time, I think also for the fans it’s exciting that a lot of young players are coming, a lot of new names which the fans doesn’t know yet, but they start to know the players. I think it’s good for the WTA, it’s good for the fans and also for us that new faces are coming.”

The Nature Valley International semi-finals start at 11am (BST).

 

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