The Report Card hands out grades for the best and worst from the week in tennis.
Rafael Nadal: A-plus. After a 15-day layoff to rest his ailing knee, Nadal didn’t drop a set in Monte Carlo, finally beat Novak Djokovic in a final (6-3, 6-1) after seven straight losses and won this event for the eighth consecutive time. He leaves Monaco with his confidence high from playing the right way and, perhaps most important, he’s relatively injury-free. Next stop: Barcelona.
Novak Djokovic: A. Look, I’m not in the business of knocking a guy whose grandfather just died. Djokovic’s tennis wasn’t great all week and he was completely checked out during that final, playing by far his worst match in almost two years. But even in a subpar week, Djokovic continued to reveal his character. He could have packed up and left after learning of his grandfather’s death, but as a professional, he had a job to do so he stuck around and did it the best he could. How many of us have had to miss family events because of pressing professional matters? Tennis players, they’re just like us.
Jelena Jankovic: A. I was joking with a friend last week that while most top players have “Beast Mode” when they’re in the zone, Jankovic has “Hero Mode” when it comes to Fed Cup. Much like Argentina’s David Nalbandian in Davis Cup, Jankovic is able to summon the big performance needed to keep the Serbs in contention, though she can also be the source of tension within the team’s camp. All she’s ever needed was for her compatriot Ana Ivanovic to show up (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) and do her part. To put it in baseball terms, JJ’s the closer and Ivanovic is the set-up reliever. In upsetting Russia in Moscow over the weekend, the two players played their parts perfectly. Ivanovic’s comeback win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Sunday gave the Serbs a 2-1 lead and set the stage for Jankovic, who clinched Serbia’s first Fed Cup final appearance with a straight-set win over Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Jarmila Gajdosova: A. Australia’s upset of a stacked German team wasn’t a huge surprise in and of itself, but all credit to Gajdosova for ratcheting up the pressure on the home team with her straight-set win over Julia Goerges in the second rubber. The conventional wisdom was that the Aussies’ best chance was for Samantha Stosur to win her two singles matches and then partner with Casey Dellacqua or Gajdosova to take the doubles match. No one expected Gajdosova, who has struggled mightily for the last year, to succeed in singles against Germany’s top two options in Goerges and Angelique Kerber. With the Aussies up 2-0 after the first day and Goerges apparently ill (she had been on antibiotics all week), captain Barbara Rittner was forced to call on Andrea Petkovic to play Stosur in the third tie. Petkovic, rusty from a lack of match play, was no match for Stosur’s consistency, and with that, the Aussies returned to the World Group.
Andy Murray: B-minus. Consistency still eludes the Scot, though in a lengthy interview last week, Murray told Sir David Frost that he still struggles with the transition from hard courts to clay. Falling to Tomas Berdych isn’t a bad defeat per se, but Murray couldn’t find his form at all in a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-3 loss in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals.
Tomas Berdych: B-plus. Solid week for Berdych, who beat Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori and Murray to make his second semifinal at the Monte Carlo Masters. We know Berdych can play on the red stuff — he reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2010, losing to Robin Soderling — and if he keeps up this form, he could play spoiler in Paris next month.
Serena Williams: A. She did it. She actually hopped on a plane to Ukraine for Fed Cup. And, along with winning two matches to help the United States secure World Group promotion, it sounds like she had fun while bonding with the young American crew of Sloane Stephens, Christina McHale and Jamie Hampton. Williams had so much fun that she even said she’s “definitely” planning to play next year. Then again, she’s also the woman who admitted that she says things that don’t make sense all the time. So we’ll see. But for now, I love seeing Serena building on these relationships with the young set.
Sam Stosur: A. Two wins over top-20 opponents in Kerber and Petkovic on the red clay in Stuttgart. Sure, those shouldn’t be attention-grabbing victories for a No. 5-ranked player, but this is Stosur we’re talking about. In eight tournaments this year, she’s lost to six players ranked outside the top 10. Frankly, winning matches she’s supposed to win is considered, oddly, a high-quality performance.
The Bryans: A-plus. On the way to their second title of the year (and first since season-opening Sydney), Bob and Mike Bryan finally exacted revenge on Leander Paes/Radek Stepanek, the team that beat them in the Australian Open final and the semifinals of Miami. But, most important, the brothers gave us the most adorable trophy picture in the history of trophy pictures.
Petra Kvitova: A. The Czech Republic rolled over Italy 4-1 to make its second straight Fed Cup final, displacing the Italians from the No. 1 ranking. It’s hard not be jealous of Czech captain Petr Pala’s team, which is perfectly set up for domination. He has a No. 1 in Kvitova, who can beat anyone in the world; a solid No. 2 singles player in Lucie Safarova; and, instead of having to cobble together a doubles team, he has Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, one of the best duos in the world. With her two singles wins against Italy, Kvitova has extended her unbeaten streak on indoor hard courts to 25. Note to all the other teams: If you ever get to host the Czechs in a Fed Cup tie, tear the darn roof off your venue.
Donald Young: F. Young slipped to 2-9 in 2012 after losing to Paul Henri-Mattieu 6-0, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo first round, a result that makes we wonder when the 22-year-old American hits rock bottom this year. It’s gotta be close.
Gilles Simon: B-plus. After a slow start to 2012 — and a regretful decision to play the Golden Swing in South America rather than Europe’s indoor circuit — Simon is back to being the guy who beats the players he’s supposed to beat. He’s now reached at least the fourth round of the last three Masters tournaments and posted his best showing of them all in Monte Carlo. He defeated two top-10 players in Janko Tipsarevic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before losing to Nadal in the semifinals.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: D. With Maria Kirilenko suffering from an injury, Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev had no choice but to play Pavlyuchenkova in singles on Saturday and Sunday. He must have hoped that the occasion would help snap the 20-year-old Pavlyuchenkova out of her slump. It didn’t. She lost to Jankovic and Ivanovic, dropping her record to 3-10 this year.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: C-plus. Tsonga hasn’t had a bad year by any means. He’s avoided the surprise early-round losses that used to plague him, and the lowest-ranked players he’s lost to are Nalbandian (Indian Wells) and Nishikori (Australian Open), two men who were playing above their ranking at the time. In fact, he’s now supplanted David Ferrer at No. 5. But I’m still waiting for Tsonga, who’s made a name for himself by upsetting the tour’s headliners, to pull off a big one this year. He could have had a crack at Nadal in Monte Carlo, but he couldn’t get out of his own way in his loss to Simon.
Thomaz Bellucci: B-plus. For better or worse, the season moves at such a brisk clip — even just day in and day out — that it’s easy to forget the early-round surprises. So let’s recognize Bellucci, a player with a reputation for choking badly when matches are on the line, for submitting an upset-of-the-year candidate, stunning last year’s Monte Carlo finalist and grinder extraordinaire Ferrer 6-3, 6-2 in the second round. No one saw that one coming.
Judy Murray: B. It would have been a major accomplishment for Murray to lead Great Britain into the World Group in her first year as Fed Cup captain. The Brits, however, went down 0-2 after the first day and lost 4-1 to Sweden. But Murray’s decision to swap out Britain’s No. 1, Elena Baltacha, for Laura Robson, who is younger and less experienced but arguably its most talented player, showed her character as a captain. Murray is clearly not afraid to make moves, and she has the cachet to do so without disrupting team chemistry. Putting Robson into her first live singles rubber was a risky decision that almost paid off, as the 18-year-old played one of the best sets of her career before losing to Sweden’s No. 1, Sofia Arvidsson, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. The team was devastated after the loss, but Murray has proved she was a great choice to lead the women. Unfortunately, after all the progress made by the team this year, it’s back to where it started: slugging it out with 15 other nations in zonal play for another chance at promotion.
Maria Sharapova: B-plus. High marks for fooling us all, Maria. But I’m knocking you down a notch for claiming you didn’t think the pictures would cause a stir. Unlike that short wig, false modesty does not become you.
Caroline Wozniacki: N/A. It’s for charity so I can’t really give her an “F,” but seriously, have you heard this thing?