The Report Card hands out grades for the best and worst from the week in tennis.
Andy Murray and Agnieszka Radwanska: A-plus. Is Andy Murray the Aga Radwanska of men’s tennis? Or is Aga Radwanska the Andy Murray of women’s tennis? Um … probably neither actually. But the similarities are uncanny. Both won a summer title on the U.S. hardcourts, and neither has lost a match since the U.S. Open, with each going 11-0 and collecting two tournament victories in Asia.
Murray produced his finest performance of the year against top-flight opposition in Tokyo. First, he manhandled David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals. He returned the next day and outclassed Rafael Nadal, who ended three of Murray’s four Grand Slam campaigns this year, sweeping the final eight games in a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory. Then the Scot came out and won the doubles title with his brother, Jamie, making him the only man in 2011 to win both the singles and doubles at a tournament.
Of course, the headline was his singles win, as it should be. Murray set aside any thoughts of passivity and stepped in to attack Nadal, particularly with his backhand. It was a fantastic reminder of what Murray can do when he commits to an aggressive game plan and executes his shots, both of which are probably easier said than done but also expected from Murray as he tries to justify his position in the Big Four. He hasn’t been able to translate that to a Grand Slam victory yet, but it’s encouraging to see it even in these smaller tournaments. You have to crawl before you walk.
As for Radwanska, she capped another quality run by defeating Andrea Petkovic 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 in the Beijing final to capture the biggest title of her career. Petkovic actually won more points (101 to 100) in the two-and-half-hour match, but Radwanska delivered in the big moments and finished with 32 winners against only 12 unforced errors. The Pole’s unbeaten Asian swing vaulted her back into the top 10 at No. 8 and put her in prime position to qualify for the Year-End Championships in Istanbul.
Tomas Berdych: B-plus. While Murray and Radwanska were keeping their streaks alive, Berdych was snapping one of his own. By beating Marin Cilic in the Beijing final, Berdych broke a 29-month title drought. He also moved into the No. 7 spot in the Battle for London.
It was a great week for Berdych, who raced through his first three matches (which included bagel sets against Philipp Kohlschreiber and Fernando Verdasco) before eliminating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a three-set semifinal and coming back from a set down to knock off Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Rafael Nadal: B-minus. Losing to Murray isn’t news in and of itself. After all, Nadal has lost to Murray at least once every year since 2008. But if there’s one thing we have come to expect from Rafa over the years it is that he will bring his competitive fire to every match, day in and day out.
So it was an odd sight to watch the Spaniard on the receiving end of a bagel set from Murray with nary a snarl, a cocked eyebrow or a jack-knifing “Vamos!” His body language wasn’t negative but it definitely wasn’t positive, and he didn’t make much of an effort to fire himself up. He appeared almost resigned to the fact that it wasn’t his day.
That rare sight makes it hard not to wonder if his tank is running on empty. Hopefully it was just a one-off and Nadal can rebound in Shanghai. Winning a big title late in the year might put a bit of pep in his step going into the offseason.
Flavia Pennetta: B-plus. For much of this year Pennetta (formerly of the top 10, formerly the Italian No. 1) looked like she was unintentionally making her transition from a solid singles player to a doubles specialist. Pennetta went through the entire clay-court season winless, and when she did advance in events, she was rarely able to win more than two or three matches. Then came the U.S. Open, where she unexpectedly ousted two seeds, including Maria Sharapova, to make the quarterfinals. It’s a lovely thing to see the 29-year-old rediscover her all-court game, which, when she’s playing well, appears effortless.
Last week it was Caroline Wozniacki’s turn to get an up-close reminder of the Italian’s skill. Pennetta upset the world’s top-ranked player 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (2) in the Beijing quarterfinals, making that two wins over top-five players in a little more than a month. Few players can change the direction of the ball with pace like Pennetta, and her ability and willingness to redirect a cross-court ball back down the line and then finish the point at the net punctured Wozniacki’s normally impenetrable defensive wall.
But perhaps most impressive was Pennetta’s ability to bounce back after failing to serve out the second set at 5-3 and then finding herself in a decisive tiebreaker. From there, she played a strong breaker to seal the match. That’s the grit that’s been missing from much of Flavia’s year. Better late than never for Pennetta, who climbed from 26th to 18th in this week’s rankings.
Andrea Petkovic: B. Three years ago, Petkovic was ranked No. 315. In 2009, she was up to No. 56, and she finished 2010 at No. 32. This year, she’s the only woman to make three Slam quarterfinals, she made her first Premier Mandatory semifinal in Miami, she cracked the top 10 for the first time and, last week, she finally broke through to reach her first final at a Premier Mandatory.
On a Tour where inconsistency is the norm, you have to tip your cap to the players who, more often than not, live up to and exceed their seeding. While the loss to Radwanska effectively knocked her out of qualifying for Istanbul (she’s in as an alternate), Petkovic’s Beijing run moved her back into the top 10 at No. 9.
Tokyo: A. Questions lingered about whether there would be any tournaments in Japan this year in light of the devastating effects of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck the country in March. So it was nice to see Tokyo host the WTA and ATP for two weeks and be rewarded with fine tournaments. The players seemed to enjoy themselves and had nothing but wonderful things to say about the people and the culture. Well done, Tokyo. See you next year.