The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. This past week was highlighted by Serena Williams’ victory at the WTA Championships.
Serena Williams: A-plus. The unofficial — though undisputed — WTA Player of the Year rolled through the WTA Championships in Istanbul to win her seventh title of 2012. Williams capped her best season in 10 years by beating the Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8 players in the world without dropping a set. Cue the hand-wringing over the computer rankings, where Williams will finish the year ranked No. 3. I don’t have a problem with the rankings, which accurately reflect the fact that Williams had a rough start to the year, while Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova held their consistency from first ball to last. But numbers aside, there’s no doubt that Williams is the best player in the world right now.
Maria Sharapova: A. Yeah, she lost to Williams for the ninth straight time, but she played her close and as well as she could have. Overall, it was about as good an ending as Sharapova could have to her season, going undefeated through pool play and getting the better of a nemesis, Azarenka, in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-2. But perhaps her most impressive achievement in Istanbul was somehow avoiding any questions from the local media about her break-up with Sasha Vujacic, a former NBA player now playing in Turkey.
Victoria Azarenka: B. Vika clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking by defeating Li Na for a spot in the semifinals. But Azarenka couldn’t summon her best tennis after entering the tournament riding a streak of two titles. She needed more than three hours to hold off Angelique Kerber, a match that seemed to take her legs out for the rest of the week. When she lost to Sharapova she basically limped off court to end her season, picking up a leg injury late in the match. Still, she was all smiles afterward as she reflected on a breakout year and welcomed the offseason wholeheartedly.
Agnieszka Radwanska: B-plus. Poor Aga. She and Azarenka got hosed by the scheduling, with Vika forced to play four matches in four days and Aga having to play Williams in the semifinals less than 24 hours after grinding out a three-hour win over Sara Errani. If ever a player had that “lamb-being-led-to-slaughter” look, it was Radwanska. Her week may have ended quietly with a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Williams, but she delivered some intriguing matches. Her body may have hated her for spending more than eight hours on the court over three matches, but the fans didn’t. With Radwanska beating Petra Kvitova, pushing Sharapova to three sets and playing a thoroughly entertaining match with Errani, the Championships were a great showcase for the versatility of her game.
Angelique Kerber: B. Going 0-3 never looked so good. Kerber walked away without a win, but her round-robin meeting with Azarenka was the match of the tournament. More than any other player at the Championships, Kerber truly soaked in the event and the atmosphere, whooping up the crowd every chance she got.
Sara Errani: B-plus. Grande Sara! She was the odds-on pick to go 0-3, yet there she was dropping a third-set bagel on Sam Stosur, and she came very close to beating Radwanska and advancing to the semifinals. Unfortunately, her doubles campaign wasn’t as successful. Though she and partner Roberta Vinci will finish the year as the No. 1-ranked team, they were eliminated by Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova.
Li Na: C-plus. Is there a bigger underachiever in the top 10 than Li? The strokes and movement are all there, but even she’ll admit the biggest problem is her head. She had an early lead on Williams but let it go and served for the first set against Azarenka but collapsed. It’s a trend for her, but she says she and coach Carlos Rodriguez are working on it.
Petra Kvitova: C-minus. The charming Czech once again fell ill and was forced to withdraw from the Championships. Is this all just a snake-bitten year of bad luck or is there a more serious explanation for her fragility. Hope she and her team can figure it out during the off-season.
Istanbul: A. I had my doubts on whether the city could replicate its attendance numbers from last year, but the fans came back and were even more enthusiastic than last year. The crowd will be the legacy of Istanbul’s three-year stint hosing the Championships. They are by far the best crowd I’ve ever seen at a WTA tournament. Will Kazan, Mexico City, Tianjin, or Singapore — the four candidate cities for the 2014 Championships — be able to replicate it? Or are we going to back to the empty stadiums we saw in Doha, Madrid and LA?
Juan Martin del Potro: A-plus. No, but seriously, welcome back, DelPo. Since taking time off the rehab his left wrist, the Argentine hasn’t lost a match. He bagged a title in Vienna and then went into Roger Federer’s hometown tournament and beat him 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 for his second straight title. The win moves Del Potro to 17-1 indoors and tees him up perfectly for the ATP World Tour Finals next week. The last time DelPo qualified for the WTFs he made the finals.
Roger Federer: C. It was a scratchy week for Federer in Basel, where he was going for his sixth title there and trying to replicate his back-to-back-to-back wins of Basel, Paris and London last year in hopes of ending the year at No. 1. That’s not going to happen now. With the loss in the finals to Del Potro, Federer withdrew from the Paris Masters, a move that assured Novak Djokovic the No. 1 ranking at the end of the year.
David Ferrer: B-plus. Ferrer has been quiet lately, having skipped some tournaments since Beijing. But he returned to the tournament he co-owns with Juan Carlos Ferrero and took the title, beating Alexander Dolgopolov in the final.
WTA Championships Doubles Format: D. Four teams, single elimination, no-ad scoring, and a third set super tiebreak. For one of the biggest titles of the year — and a load of cash — that’s a ridiculous system for doubles. If the tour wants to keep the matches short then they should choose either no-ad or a super tiebreak. But having them both in place adds too much luck to the process.