Report Card: Davis Cup heroes, first-time champs, more grades

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Tomas Berdych

Tomas Berdych led the Czech Republic over Argentina to reach the Davis Cup final. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. This week saw some players step up at the Davis Cup and a couple of first-time WTA champs.

Tomas Berdych: A-plus. A week after losing to Andy Murray in the U.S. Open semis, Berdych was back on his horse to almost single-handedly put the Czech Republic in just their second Davis Cup final since they won the title as Czechoslovakia in 1980. Berdych excelled on the red clay in Buenos Aires, coming back to win when trailing two sets to one (and a break down) to Juan Monaco on the first day. Then, he teamed up with Radek Stepanek to win doubles and give the Czechs a 2-1 lead heading into the last day, where he clinched the tie by defeating Carlos Berlocq, a late replacement for Juan Martin del Potro who withdrew due to injury. That’s a solid weekend’s worth of work and it’s an effort that other top players should look to when it comes to Davis Cup commitment. Berdych and Stepanek have carried this team all year, with Berdych losing just one singles match in the last two years and he hasn’t lost a doubles match since the 2009 final. With so many Davis Cup ties turning on the doubles rubber, that’s some clutch work from Berdych, who rarely has any success outside of Davis Cup.

The win means the Czech Republic will be in the finals of both Davis Cup and Fed Cup — Petra Kvitova & Co. clinched their final spot in April — giving them the opportunity to become just the third country to ever win both Davis Cup and Fed Cup in the same year. They will host the defending champions, Spain, who beat the Czechs in the 2009 final. The difference is that Spain won’t benefit from their clay superiority. As hosts, the Czechs will have choice of surface, and I’m pretty sure they’re Googling “fastest hardcourt surface the ITF will allow” as we speak.

Berdych also gets high marks for taking this picture, which was easily the picture of the tournament.

David Ferrer: A. Credit to Ferrer for making the most of Rafael Nadal’s absence. First he makes the semifinals of the U.S. Open in the Rafa-less quarter and now he won’t let that spotlight go, winning both of his singles matches against the United States to send Spain into their second straight Davis Cup final. In so doing, he extended his record to 16-0 in singles matches at home.

Bernard Tomic: C. It was always going to be a tough ask for Australia to avoid relegation against Germany on clay in Hamburg, but after Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione snagged a crucial point by winning the doubles to give Patrick Rafter’s men a 2-1 lead heading into the final day, Tomic had a prime opportunity to play the hero against Germany. Instead, he went down in straight sets to the always tricky Florian Mayer, leaving Australia’s hopes with Hewitt in the final match of the tie, which he lost in straight sets to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. With Hewitt’s Davis Cup days numbered, you have to wonder how long it will be until we see Australia back in the top flight World Group.

Roger Federer: B-plus. An admittedly exhausted Federer dusted himself off from a disappointing U.S. Open to help Switzerland avoid relegation and stay in the World Group, winning both his singles matches against an outmatched team from the Netherlands. Theoretically that would bode well for his Davis Cup participation in 2013, but Federer said afterwards that Davis Cup simply isn’t a priority for him. It’s the same sentiment he’s offered before and it continues to puzzle me. You need three points to win any Davis Cup tie and you have to think Federer could count on himself to deliver two of those points. With Wawrinka playing behind him and teaming up for doubles, I’d give the Swiss as good a chance as any to capture a title any given year.

John Isner (left) lost both his singles rubbers as the U.S. lost to Spain in Davis Cup. (Alvaro Barrientos/AP)

John Isner: B. The fact that the Americans were even in the semifinals is a credit to Isner and a triumph in and of itself. Isner led the Americans to away wins over the Swiss (def. Federer, Chiudinelli) and French (def. Tsonga, Simon), but with an opportunity to put the pressure on the Spaniards he got locked into a long, drawn out five-setter once again and looked gassed by the end of it, losing to Nicolas Almagro on the first day. That loss put the Americans in an 0-2 hole after Sam Querrey lost to Ferrer in the opening rubber. Two days later, Ferrer laid down the hammer to hand Isner a four-set loss. None of that should take away from what Jim Courier’s team was able to do this year.

The Bryans: A. Rock solid again. In a must-win tie, the twins scored a big win over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez to keep the tie alive going into Sunday.

Radek Stepanek: C-minus. The guy just loves to invite Davis Cup controversy. First there was that “handshake” with Janko Tipsarevic earlier this year, now he tells the press that Del Potro was exaggerating his injury. As AP reported, Stepanek told Czech media that Del Potro looked “absolutely healthy,” and that Del Potro’s tears after the win seemed “blown out of proportion.” Considering Del Potro subsequently withdrew and his wrist has to be immobilized for 10 days, I’m not so sure, Radek.

Nicolas Almagro: A. If Almagro loses to Isner on Day 1, who knows how this tie could have turned out. But he didn’t. Davis Cup is a pressure cooker that can melt the steeliest of minds and Almagro was dealing with one of the most frustrating players on tour. But as Isner blew ace after ace by him and the Spaniard grew frustrated by his inability to convert break points, Nico stuck with it. His reward was a stadium full of Spaniards chanting his name. With the stacked Spaniard team, that’s not an opportunity that comes often for Almagro.

Venus Williams: A. You have to admire Venus’ commitment to WorldTeam Tennis and her participation, especially this season, has been the spark the competition needed. On Sunday, Venus clinched the second straight title for the Washington Kastles, who finished the season undefeated and extended their unbeaten streak to 32-0 over the last two years. While her play has occasionally been spotty, her enthusiasm never wavers. Check out the celebratory pictures of Venus being hoisted by her team. Venus is exactly what WTT needed and she delivered both for her team and the league.

Kristen Flipkens: A. Prior to this weekend, Flipkens’ main claim to fame was being Kim Clijsters good buddy. Clijsters was spotted at the U.S. Open cheering her countrywoman on during singles and the two paired up together for doubles in Kim’s last go-round. Fast forward a few weeks and the 26-year-old wins her first WTA title in Quebec City. She did it the hard way too, beating Mona Barthel, Dominika Cibulkova and Lucie Hradecka for the title.

Irina Camelia Begu: A. Apparently beating Caroline Wozniacki at a Slam gives you wings — tough luck, Red Bull. Begu, who beat Wozniacki in the first round of the U.S. Open, captured her first WTA title in Tashkent.

Donna Vekic: B-plus. The 16-year-old Croatian became the youngest woman to make a WTA final since Tamira Paszek won Portoroz as a 15-year-old in 2006. I confess I’ve yet to see her play, but there’s a lot of buzz around this youngster. She’s coached by David Felgate, who worked with Tim Henman, Xavier Malisse and Nicole Vaidisova.

Juan Martin del Potro: C-minus. He ignores doctors orders and decides to play Davis Cup anyway, winning his first match in straight sets over Stepanek. Then, with Argentina down 1-2, he withdraws under doctors orders before his highly anticipated match against Berdych. It’s easy to say that he never should have played in the first place, but this Argentina and this is Davis Cup. They take this competition seriously (understatement alert) and the pressure to play must have been immense.

Team Russia: F. They lost 5-0 to the Brazilians with a team that didn’t include their No. 1, Mikhail Youzhny. Youzhny says no one asked him to play. “There actually wasn’t a refusal. As funny as it seems, no one invited me, no one called me,” Youzhny said. Russian Captain Shamil Tarpischev has been known to make some curious lineup decisions but this one was suspicious. So much so that Youzhny was asked whether he thought Tarpischev was deliberately trying to lose the tie. He declined to comment. “That question isn’t for me.”

French Paparazzi: A. Kudos to you guys for being on-hand when Serena was walking hand-in-back-pocket with her married coach/advisor Patrick Mouratoglou. Now here’s my question: How did y’all know to be in Valbonne, a small French city that is a nine-hour drive from Paris on this exact day, at that exact moment, looking for these two? Something to think about.

The Tennis Calendar: C. I know it will never happen, but there’s something to be said about the notion that the tennis season should end with the U.S. Open.

  • Published On Sep 17, 2012
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    Tennis calendar should end with US open? What about the Asian swing then?


    Yes, tennis calendar should end with the US Open because everything evolve around the US?

    I'm so looking forward to Asian Swing (where I'm living) when I can watch tennis court side or live at decent hours.  


    You give Del Potro a C- - really. What are you - 23 - 24, and you think you know the Tennis world? It's shame Tennis, the ugly red headed step child of sports, has to suffer this kind of inane commentary.



    Michael9 2 Like

    Tennis writers are hastening Federer's demise by pressurizing 31-year old Federer to keep wasting his diminishing resources on Davis Cup. This is a white elephant event that the ITF refuses to reformat or scrap because it continues to be a cash cow to pay the salaries of tennis bureaucrats.


    Federer's higher priority as an ATP professional is to win grand slams, the year-end championship and the No. 1 ranking on the ATP World Tour -- not waste his efforts on Davis Cup. Federer has to pick his priorities wisely because he's no longer 25 years old. Top players have to make sacrifices or suffer consequences. In 1998, Pete Sampras achieved his record sixth year-end No. 1: Sampras played seven tournaments in Fall 1998 in order to neck out Marcelo Rios by just 245 ranking points! 27-year old Sampras was able to play so much because he and his coach Paul Annacone used their common sense to skip the Davis Cup World Group semifinal home tie against weak Italy (four of the five Americans in the top 50 also skipped that tie, which USA badly lost).


    We should be worried that Federer openly confessed “I’m wounded, tired, exhausted” after playing his fourth straight meaningless Davis Cup tie in the past 18 months. Every Davis Cup tie costs Federer seven to ten days (more if he is injured, sick or jet-lagged). Davis Cup is burning out Federer because (a) he played 84 matches in the past 52 weeks, which is the second highest number of matches on tour, and (b) he has played 1062 total matches in his career which is far more miles than his younger rivals have. If Federer is forced to drop out of Shanghai to rest, then this Netherlands tie would harm Federer's chance to end the year No.1.


    What puzzles me is there was no mention that the much younger Nadal, Djokovic and Murray skipped Davis Cup entirely this year. Nadal has skipped three entire Davis Cup seasons (2012, 2010, 2007), Murray skipped two entire seasons (2012, 2010) and Djokovic skipped one season (2012). Djokovic practically skipped 2011 as well (he played just one doubles match and half a singles match before retiring). Had they played Davis Cup in those years, would they have won all those grand slam titles?


    If Switzerland has not won Davis Cup -- or even reached a final -- after 13 years of Federer playing, it is not going to happen. Davis Cup will remain a futile pursuit because Switzerland does not have a minimum three good players needed to make up a viable team. Even Serbia had four good players in 2010 (Nenad Zimonjic was the world's No.1 doubles player most of 2010) and Spain has enough players for three or four teams.


    The two-man team of Federer-Wawrinka cannot win the Davis Cup by themselves and without a ton of luck (e.g., weak draws and opponent injuries). Wawrinka's Davis Cup record is mediocre. Wawrinka's singles record is only 15-11 (since 2009 only 6-4). As well, Wawrinka is not an effective doubles player as his doubles record is only 2-9. Wawrinka's only two career doubles wins came from partnering Federer against Portugal and Belgium. Wawrinka-Federer now have a losing 2-3 record in Davis Cup doubles (they have lost their last three Davis Cup doubles matches against Australia, USA and Netherlands). Partnering Wawrinka has worsened Federer's doubles record from 9-5 to 11-8 (Federer played doubles in 19 of 22 ties). In 17 career ties, Wawrinka has a losing record of 17-20. Wawrinka is no Stepanek. In 16 career ties for the Czech Rep, Radek Stepanek has a winning record of 24-12. Stepanek -- ranked No. 9 in ATP doubles and No. 40 in singles -- remains a more versatile and effective second player for the Czech Republic than Wawrinka in his prime is for Switzerland. 


    At age 31, Federer deserves to retire from Davis Cup. He has more than earned the right to do so without opportunistic tennis writers hypocritically chatising him. Federer has already played more Davis Cup in his career than the vast majority of great players in tennis history (most of whom were on stronger deeper teams): Sampras, Connors, Lendl, Courier, Newcombe, Agassi, Borg, Laver, Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Arthur Ashe, Pat Rafter, etc. Federer's 13 Davis Cup seasons, 22 ties and 58 matches compares favorably with the 10 seasons, 25 ties and 63 matches compiled by 31-year old John McEnroe, the record-holding U.S. Davis Cupper.


    Federer was exhausted, hurting and tired of tennis, but showed up to an event that doesn't mean much to him to work with his friends/teammates.  He clinches the victory.  And he gets a B+?

    Michael9 1 Like

    David Ferrer deserves an A-Plus Plus. Ferrer is the unsung hero and backbone of Spain's Davis Cup success. Since 2006, Spain played 21 Davis Cup ties. David Ferrer has showed up for 16 ties of those 21 ties (76%) where he played 25 singles matches. In comparison, Nadal showed up for only 8 of Spain's 21 ties (38%), where he played only 15 singles matches and 1 doubles match. Nadal played 6 clay home ties and only 2 non-clay away ties. Nadal missed 13 ties since 2006 (Nadal skipped every Davis Cup tie outside Europe in his career: 2008 Argentina DC final, 2011 USA quarterfinal, 2007 USA quarterfinal, 2008 Peru). Yet the Spanish team -- thanks to the dedication of Ferrer and teammates -- still won 10 of those 13 ties missed by Nadal, losing only three away hard/carpet ties to 2010 France, 2007 USA and 2006 Belarus. 


    Without Radek Stepanek, the Czech Rep would not have made it this far -- Stepanek did enough to worsen Del Potro's injury that the Argentine had to withdraw. Tomas Berdych is lucky that (a) Juan Martin Del Potro was injured (Delpo has a 4-2 winning record over Berdych, including in their only two red clay matches) and (b) the versatile Radek Stepanek is on his team (Stepanek is ranked No. 40 singles and also No. 9 in doubles -- he has 15 doubles titles, including the 2012 Australian Open). Berdych has a 6-0 winning record over Juan Monaco (3 clay - 3 hard) so of course he had a good chance to beat the Argentine on clay.


    In March 2011, Berdych's loss at home to unheralded Andrey Golubev of Kazahkstan knocked the Czech Rep out of the Davis Cup (another key reason Czech Rep lost was because Stepanek did not play that tie). Since then, the Czech Rep -- bolstered by Stepanek -- has faced a slew of puffball teams: 2011 Romania away, 2012 Italy at home, 2012 Serbia (without Djokovic) at home, and Argentina (without injured Delpo for the critical match, without injured Nalbandian). And now he has a home tie against Spain without Nadal (he's unlikely to give up his protected ranking for a Davis Cup tie). Berdych was lucky this year.


    If the tennis season should end after US Open, then the 4-week slot in March reserved for Indian Wells and Miami should be given to tournaments in Asia.  In fact, it is more logically to do that - after Australian Open, players will start playing in Asia which has similar time zone as Melbourne. Miami and Indian Wells should be played before US open. This means 4 master series tournaments in that time period (oops, remember we used to have 3 clay court master series .....ala Monte Carlo situation?) Something has to give.  So cancel Cincinatti if the calendar is too jam packed.    


    Idiot cancel Cincy the 2nd best tournament behind the US Open.  The plyers love Cincy.  You are obviously not very tennis saavy.