By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Agnieszka Radwanska flirted with her goals of winning a grand slam and becoming the tennis world number one last year and, after a blistering start to 2013, will be out to tick one of those boxes at the Australian Open next week.
It would be easy to dismiss the 23-year-old Pole as another of the string of players with no particular strengths to their game who have hit the top of women's tennis in recent years only to fade back into the pack.
Radwanska has separated herself from that pack and jumped into the top five in the world not only through the usual combination of hard work and application but also by her speed of thought.
Her tactical nous, anticipation, subtlety and all-court craft have earned her comparisons with Martina Hingis and to those attributes over the last couple of weeks she has added another - form.
After "a lot of treatment and rehab in the off‑season" to clear up a few injuries, she has come out blasting in 2013 and eight straight victories have taken her to the Auckland Classic title and into Friday's final of the Sydney International.
"I'm really ready for the Australian Open," she said on Thursday after beating Li Na in the semi-finals. "I will do of course everything to win that match tomorrow as well, and we'll see. I hope to win 16 matches in a row."
Radwanska will be seeded fourth in Melbourne but her head-to-heads against the trio above her - 0-4 against Serena Williams, 2-8 against Maria Sharapova and 3-11 against Victoria Azarenka - indicate that in an ideal world she would want to avoid all of them.
Williams, who beat her in the Wimbledon final and WTA Tour finals last year, looked in even more imperious form than ever when she romped to the Brisbane warm-up title last week.
"Every tournament is a different story, every match is a different story," Radwanska said of the American this week. "Definitely she's on fire and she's playing unbelievable tennis for the last couple months. For sure she's a very tough opponent right now."
With Radwanska's run of victories has come confidence and, asked whether she felt she was now at the head of the second rank behind the top three, she all but presupposed a victory over Dominika Cibulkova on Friday.
"It's always hard to say," she said. "But I think of course winning two tournaments in a row is a good score and a good thing.
"Never had that before, especially here, so for sure I'm ready for the Australian Open. I'm happy that I can play my best tennis from the beginning of the year."
Radwanska has assiduously improved various aspects of her game in recent years and has recently been working on upping her aggression and adding a bit more fizz to her second serve.
She gives the impression that she knows what to do to beat the players she has lost to frequently but just needs to do it better.
Radwanska got to within a couple of points of the number one ranking after winning titles in Doha, Miami and Brussels last year and enjoyed her run to the final on the grass of the All England Club.
Williams proved too good for her on the day but Radwanska has no intention of making grand-slam runner-up the extent of her ambition.
"Of course it was like a dream come true to be in the major final, definitely, but I think nothing changed," she said.
"It's just that for sure I really have more confidence that I can be in the final of a grand slam and I can win it as well. So I'll try to do that."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)