The second major of the season is in the books. Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova put up solid performances to hoist hardware at the French Open. Now it’s time to take stock of individual performances by handing out grades.
Rafael Nadal: A-plus. By now the numbers have been repeated over and over again. A record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title, he doesn’t drop a set heading into the final, and he overcame adverse conditions and Novak Djokovic’s heavy hitting to come back from a break down in a rain interrupted final to close out the fourth set. The key to Nadal’s win? His intensity and focus when play resumed on Monday sent a clear message to Djokovic. He got the break back immediately and the Serb grew more and more frustrated with each game. There’s no doubt Rafa was the best man throughout Paris and he’ll leave the City of Lights with one thing he’s been missing for a while: his swagger.
Maria Sharapova: A-plus. While Nadal did what he always does, Sharapova did what no one ever thought she could do: win the French Open after coming back from career-threatening shoulder surgery, a coaching change, a racket change and various tweaks to her technique. Who would have thought that Sharapova, famous for her uber-professionalism that can come across as guarded and icy, would provide the feel-good moment of the tournament? People may hate the shrieks and they may long for a more graceful game, but in Maria Sharapova, fans of women’s tennis have the one thing that so many of the women lack: a hardened competitor who can will herself to win. Respect that.
Novak Djokovic: B-plus. Djokovic was nowhere near his best all tournament, yet he survived losing the first two sets to Andreas Seppi and saved four match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. And don’t you dare think the eight-straight games he reeled off against Nadal in the final weren’t mental. With less than his A-game, Djokovic beat Roger Federer in straight sets and took a set off Nadal. The double faults in the final were problematic, but if anything, this tournament proved that Djokovic doesn’t have to play lights out to make the final of a Slam. That’s a pretty scary thought.
Sara Errani: A-plus. Errani may have been the surprise finalist, but you can’t say she didn’t earn it. Much like Li Na last year, Errani had to beat some quality opponents on the way to her first Grand Slam final, including Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Angelique Kerber and Sam Stosur. While those players crumbled under the pressure and expectation, Errani was solid as a rock, and she continued that form in the final. She couldn’t compete with Sharapova’s power, but the Italian scrambled and scrapped as much as she could to make Sharapova earn the win. We’ve become accustomed to seeing players shrink under the pressure of a Slam final. Sara Errani bucked that trend.
The Americans: C-plus. Talk about a great story that crashed and burned in a matter of 24 hours. After going 10 for 10 through the first two days of the tournament, the American women saw their numero uno, Serena Williams, suffer her first opening round loss at a Slam in … ever. Two days later, John Isner, American’s Great Clay Hope, came out on the wrong side of another marathon match, effectively ending what was one of the most highly-anticipated American clay seasons in recent memory. To be fair, it was still a great tournament for Team America, with Melanie Oudin finally getting a win at a Slam, Brian Baker providing the feel-good comeback story, and Sloane Stephens and Varvara Lepchenko getting career results. But when your best prospects go out before the tournament even gets going, it’s hard to look at it fondly.
Sloane Stephens: A. The draw opened up for her and she did well to take advantage of it, making the fourth round without having to face any seeds, and she didn’t even drop a set before losing to Sam Stosur. But let’s chillax and not burden the kid with the expectation that has sunk the hopes of many an American phenom.
Brian Baker: A. Of all the anecdotes and tidbits that emerged to form The Brian Baker Story, this visual will remain my favorite: Baker loading up his bags into the trunk of his car, along with a stringing machine, to drive to a tiny challenger in Pennsylvania to start his comeback in the summer of 2011. No entourages, no federations, no help. Just a guy and his racket heading off to try to win matches.
Varvara Lepchenko: A. Along the same lines, how about Lepchenko’s story? As a Christian in a Muslim country, she fled Uzbekistan for the United States and thanks to the kindness of strangers, who offered her shelter as she and her family got on their feet. Now she’ll likely have an opportunity to wear the flag of her adopted country as her fourth round run in Paris got her ranking within the qualification zone for the Olympics. America may get a lot of flak for a variety of reasons, but show me any other country where this could happen.
David Ferrer: B-plus. There is justice in the tennis world now that Ferrer has finally made the semifinals of Roland Garros, beating Andy Murray along the way. But the celebration was short-lived. That 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 beatdown at the hands of his Playstation buddy Nadal wasn’t very fun to watch.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: B-plus. Sometimes all you can do is throw up your hands. There’s no reason that Tsonga shouldn’t have beat Djokovic after holding four match points. No reason whatsover. Well except for that whole thing about how Novak somehow finds a way to hit ridiculous shots and clip lines whenever he’s a point from losing. Don’t worry, Jo. It happens to the best. Consider it a sign of respect. Or something.
Roger Federer: C-plus: The good news for Federer fans: Roger made the semifinals without playing his best. The bad news for Federer fans: He had Djokovic on the ropes and let him off the hook. Federer had an easy stroll to the quarterfinals (though he made it more difficult than it needed to be, losing three sets in the first four rounds), then saw himself on the verge of getting ousted by a Juan Martin del Potro who seemed to rediscover his monster forehand. Del Potro wasn’t able to keep on the pressure and Federer wiggled out of that jam, but against Djokovic he simply could not sustain his level over long stretches of play.
Juan Martin del Potro: B. Let’s play a game of “What if.” What if Juan Martin del Potro was 100 percent healthy for this tournament? What then?
Tomas Berdych: B-minus. Poor Berdych. He comes into Paris as one of the hottest guys on clay and he gets the pleasure of playing Del Potro in the fourth round. Any other quarter of the draw and I think Berdych makes the quarterfinals and has a shot against any of the top three.
Lucie Safarova: D. A finalist in Charleston and winner of Prague, I had big hopes for Safarova here. And then she loses to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, a player who hadn’t won a main draw match all year. Disappointing.
Venus Williams: B. She needed three sets to beat Paula Ormaechea in the first round and then dropped out quietly to Agnieszka Radwanska. But hey, she got what she came for, bringing her ranking up from No. 134 when she came back in Miami to No. 47 today. So long as the ITF decides that she satisfied the requirement that eligible players make themselves available for Fed Cup, she’s good for the Olympics. That’s one heck of an effort.
Marion Bartoli: D. A semifinalist last year, Bartoli couldn’t get past the feisty Petra Martic, falling in the second round. You can’t say she went out quietly, though. Bartoli was “Allez-ing” like a banshee as she tried to will herself to victory. It didn’t work this time.
Dominika Cibulkova: A. The small-in-stature, big-in-game Slovak was the redemption story of the tournament. You don’t always get to rewrite a legend, and trust me, her choke to Victoria Azarenka in Miami — losing the match after leading 6-1, 5-2 — was legendary. But that’s precisely what Cibulkova did in Paris, when she upset Azarenka in the third round 6-2, 7-6, beating the then-No. 1 with a perfect balance of power and variety.
Sam Stosur: B-minus. Paging Dr. Heimlich… Paging Dr. Heimlich…
Angelique Kerber: B. Her quarterfinal loss to Errani doesn’t look so bad now, but that’s still a match she should have won. We’re only in June and Kerber has already played 47 matches this year. In her last three years on tour she played no more than 50 matches. At what point do we start to wonder whether Kerber might run out of gas?
Virginie Razzano: A. In what was easily the match of the tournament on the women’s side, Razzano overcame questionable hindrance calls, the pressure of playing at home, and the intimidation of pulling off a feat no woman had ever accomplished: knocking out Serena Williams 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the first round of a major. Just rewatch that last game (starts at the 31:11 mark), which lasted 23 minutes and had more non-sensical twists and turns than a French noir film. Incroyable.
Generation Next: C-minus. Overall it was a pretty disappointing tournament for that group of players who were poised to take over the WTA six months ago. Victoria Azarenka had, let’s face it, a horrible tournament. She was two games from being the first No. 1 seed to go out in the first round of Roland Garros and then she unraveled against Cibulkova, smashing rackets and devolving into the habits of the tempestuous youth she had done well to convince us was gone. Caroline Wozniacki’s Paris stint will be best remembered for Roddick-like questioning of an umpire, and Agnieszka Radwanska’s inability to muster any resistance to Svetlana Kuznetsova was a shock. The one lone spot was Petra Kvitova, but even she has to admit that she made the semifinals without playing her best tennis.
Kaia Kanepi: B-minus. Congratulations on your quarterfinal run, Kaia, but could you let us know where to send the therapy bills incurred as a result of your epic-almost choke against Caroline Wozniacki in the third round?
Past RG champs: C-minus. It’s probably unfair to lump Li Na, Francesca Schiavone, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic, and Serena Williams into the same category, but their losses should have never happened. Li was railroaded by Yaroslava Shvedova, Schiavone toppled by Lepchenko, Kuznetsova lost eight straight games to Errani before finally getting on the board in her loss, and Ivanovic once again got nervous in a tight third setter to Errani. And I’m sorry, but in no universe should Serena lose to Razzano, especially given her recent form.
Yaroslava Shvedova: A. Shvedova clearly ran out of gas in her three-set quarterfinal against Petra Kvitova, but this was an incredible run for the Kazakh, who saw her ranking jump 80 spots to put her within the qualifications criteria for the Olympics. Chalk another one up for the comeback kids.
Malek Jaziri: B-plus: Jaziri scored Tunisia’s first ever win in men’s singles at Roland Garros. He could have gotten a second one too. He had match points against Marcel Granollers but ended up losing in the second round.
David Goffin: A. From his Federer-worship, his inspired play, and his gutsy run of wins through qualifying through to the fourth round, Goffin showed he wasn’t a loser and he didn’t need luck to win matches. Before the tournament I didn’t know you existed. Now I can assure you I’ll never forget your name.
The Frenchmen: B-plus. From Nicolas Mahut’s upset of Andy Roddick to Paul-Henri Mathieu’s marathon win over John Isner, week one belonged to the home team and it was great to see. There isn’t a single country on earth that can match, player for player, the flair and fun with which the French play. Even Richard Gasquet was riding the wave, playing some jaw-dropping tennis in his straight set win over Tommy Haas and his gutsy (literally) win over Grigor Dimitrov. They had one more curtain call in the form of Tsonga’s almost-upset of Djokovic in, for my money, the men’s match of the tournament, but all in all, this was a good couple of weeks for the French.
Marcel Granollers: F. Thank you Marcel for giving credence to those of us who sometimes — not all the time — think the criticism the women receive regarding their grunting or shrieking is sexist. Because your selective bleating is more offensive than anything else we’ve heard.
Andy Murray: B-minus. Come on, everyone thought he’d be out in the second round. A quarterfinal loss to David Ferrer isn’t anything to hang your head at. But he’ll head into Wimbledon under the scope. Let’s just say his colleagues in the locker room weren’t too pleased with his limping and hobbling on the court during matches.
Tommy Haas: B-plus. His request for a wildcard denied, Haas put on his hardhat and went to work, winning three matches in qualifying and making the third round. At 34 years old, Haas says he wants to play a couple of more years so that his daughter say she saw her pop play professional tennis. Here’s hoping his body, which has let him down throughout his career, cooperates.
Hindrance Rule: F. I’m all for using the hindrance rule to curb grunting. You know what I’m not for? Inconsistency. Either use the rule across the board or don’t. But the two calls against Razzano for yelping due to cramps was just cruel.
French crowd: F. Every year I vow that I will figure you out. Maybe next year.
ESPN and Tennis Channel: B-plus. On the whole, I thought they did a great job covering the event. First and foremost, they picked up the matches live at the start of the day (even if that meant 2:00 am on the West Coast), and the transitions were well handled, with ESPN holding onto whichever match they were focusing on and Tennis Channel taking over with the rest of the day’s coverage. Overall, the commentary was solid. I enjoyed the additions of Mary Carillo and Rennae Stubbs, and Lindsay Davenport continues to improve as an analyst. Tennis Channel’s “French Open Tonight” wrap-up show finally hit its stride with this tournament, with a good balance of match replays, player interviews, and fun features. The only critiques go to Chris Evert and John McEnroe. Their match and tactical analysis is great, but there were just too many moments that seemed to give away the fact that they hadn’t been following the sport closely between Slams. Those little mistakes aren’t a big deal and don’t affect the analysis at the end of the day, but they sure do hurt with credibility.
NBC: D. There was nothing more frustrating than enjoying wall to wall coverage from ESPN and Tennis Channel throughout the first week, only for the weekend to come — you know, that time of the week when people actually have time to sit down and watch wall-to-wall coverage — and find NBC black out coverage for all the other stations and choose to air a Novak Djokovic blowout, as opposed to a more interesting match. Then of course, there was the issue of the station airing the men’s semifinals live on the East Coast but tape delayed everywhere else. I struggled trying to read the score off the blurry stream offered by NBC.com during the Djokovic vs. Federer semifinal. All this was capped off by NBC choosing to air Monday’s completion of the men’s final on NBC Sports Network, a channel that not everyone has access to. This end of the coverage was rough all around.