Radwanska faces fitness battle before going to war with Serena

World No 3 must shrug off illness before bid to become Poland's first Grand Slam champion

Wimbledon

If the oddsmakers are to be believed, it will hardly be worth Agnieszka Radwanska turning up for her first Grand Slam final here this afternoon. Serena Williams, who as world No 6 is ranked three places lower than her opponent, is being quoted by some bookmakers as 1-8 favourite to claim her fifth Wimbledon title.

As if Radwanska was not facing a hard enough task against the best woman player of the 21st century, the 23-year-old Pole has also been suffering from a respiratory infection. Having cut short her post-match press conference on Thursday after a coughing fit, Radwanska yesterday cancelled her scheduled pre-final meeting with the world's written press. While there was no suggestion that she might not be able to play today, it is a desperate stroke of bad luck as the Pole prepares for the biggest match of her life.

"I have been playing a lot of matches here in the rain and cold wind, and I haven't been well for a few days," Radwanska said last night. "The most important thing is that I'm feeling good on the court and playing some good tennis, despite not being able to talk much away from the court. The priority is my singles match tomorrow, so I will do whatever it takes to play the best I can."

The pity of it is that a fully-fit Radwanska might just have given Williams more trouble than many would have expected – and could still do so if she makes some sort of recovery.

Radwanska, who becomes world No 1 if she wins today, is different to most of today's baseline ball-thumpers. Her style is comparable to that of Martina Hingis, another who made up for her lack of physical power with her athleticism and intelligent play.

The Pole is a model of consistency and her ability to make her opponents play the extra ball and unsettle them with changes of pace and direction can flummox the best. Her style contrasts with that of Williams, who bludgeoned a Wimbledon record 24 aces in the semi-final – asked afterwards to describe her serve she simply said "mean" – and hits her ground strokes with formidable power. Williams won her only two meetings with Radwanska four years ago.

A former Wimbledon junior champion, Radwanska is comfortable on grass, although she spends most of her time away from tournaments practising on clay or indoor carpet courts. She returns home to Krakow at every opportunity, despite the fact there are no hard courts in the city.

"I just love being at home," Radwanska said. "We are travelling 10 months a year, so I always stay at home if it's possible. To be honest, even when I go home just for three days I will relax. I can just eat in my kitchen, sleep in my bed, sit on my couch. These are very important things for me."

The lack of tennis infrastructure in Poland is reflected in the country's history in the sport. There has never been a Polish Grand Slam singles champion of either sex and Radwanska is the first Pole to reach the women's final here since Jadwiga Jedrzejowska in 1937.

Until last year Radwanska had been coached by her father, Robert, but her recent turnaround came after she started working with Tomasz Wiktorowski, Poland's Fed Cup captain. Robert still coaches her when she returns home, but Radwanska revealed: "We had some arguments off the court. On the court we always had a good relationship and he's a great coach. He really taught me everything and for sure without him I wouldn't be here on the court, but sometimes it gets too much when you mix up your private life with tennis."

Having won four titles in her first five years on the main tour, Radwanska has won six in the last 12 months. Until this week she had never played in a Grand Slam semi-final.

Her record is in strict contrast to that of Williams, who won her doubles semi-final yesterday alongside her sister Venus against Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. Today the 30-year-old American will seek her 14th Grand Slam singles title and her first since returning last summer after a year's absence, during which she had two operations on a foot injury and a large haematoma removed from her stomach after a blood clot had travelled from a leg to her lungs.

Off the court Williams has still had her problems – after a recent failed relationship she said she was giving up on romance for the next 10 years – but on it she is as formidable as ever. "I'm so happy to be on the court," she said. "I feel like this is where I belong. Maybe I don't belong in a relationship. But I know for a fact I do belong on this tennis court."

Fact in figures

7 Will be William's seventh Wimbledon final, she has won four

89 Williams needs four more aces to break her own record of 89 set in 2010

30 Williams can become the first women 30 or over to win a singles title since 1990

1 Radwanska will be appearing in her first ever Grand Slam final

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