The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. This week we look at the first exhibitions of the season and who aced the weekend.
Novak Djokovic: A-plus. Djokovic successfully defended his title at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship by dropping a bagel on No. 5 David Ferrer and then beating Nicolas Almagro in the final. Sure, it was just an exhibition, but Djokovic looked phenomenal through those two matches, and he continued his form in Perth, beating Andreas Seppi in straight sets less than 24 hours after stepping off a plane from Abu Dhabi. We expect a bit of rust when these players take the court for their first matches of the season. Djokovic doesn’t look like he’s missed a step.
Rafael Nadal: F. The “F” is for the fact that we’re not going to see Nadal on court for a couple of months. But when it comes to decision-making, I’d give him an “A”. The story from the Nadal camp is that the stomach virus he picked up around December 20th kept him off court for 4-5 days, derailing his preparation for the season. His Uncle Toni said the inadequate preparation meant there was no way Nadal would be ready to play best of five matches under the searing Australian sun. The story makes sense to me, especially considering that Nadal has only been practicing since the end of November. Let’s not forget that this is the Slam that left Nadal and Djokovic doubled over after their six-hour final last year. Rafa has made it clear that he will come back when he’s ready to come back. Good on him for sticking to that.
Bernard Tomic: A. Tomic spent the last few months as the punchline to any joke that involved tanks, hot tubs, and sports cars. So with all eyes on him as the 2013 seasons begins, he put on an impressive display of aggressive tennis against Tommy Haas over the weekend at the Hopman Cup. Tomic won the match 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-5, coming back from 1-6 down in the first set tiebreaker and battling back again from 3-5 down in the final set. Tanking? That’s so last season.
Caroline Wozniacki: D. I really thought she’d turn the page as the new season began, but in her first match against No. 103-ranked Ksenia Pervak in Brisbane, Wozniacki was passive when the match got tight and was outdone by an opponent who took her chances and went for her shots. Wozniacki let a break lead slip away in the third set but did well to break Pervak when she served for the match and eventually force a tiebreak. But when Wozniacki chose to push, Pervak chose to punish. The 21-year-old stepped up and cracked winners from both sides to seal the match. The last time Wozniacki lost to a player ranked outside the Top 100 was in 2009. An ominous start to the season for her.
Andy Murray: D. Murray lost in straight sets to Janko Tisparevic in the Abu Dhabi exhibition, which is either a big deal or not depending on his results this week in Brisbane.
Li Na: A. Having not seen the match, it’s hard to know whether Li’s 6-3, 2-6, 10-7 win over Victoria Azarenka at an exhibition in Hua Hin, Thailand was anything more than an “exo win.” But regardless of the result, the good news is that Carlos Rodriguez will continue to work with her through the 2013 season. That’s a partnership I want to see more of.
Samantha Stosur: D. Another Stosur match in Australia, another loss, this time 7-6, 7-5 to Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson in Brisbane. Stosur revealed before the tournament that she underwent ankle surgery five weeks ago to remove a bone spur and hadn’t been able to practice at full strength until the last week. Her movement didn’t look hampered during the match, but her off-season rust showed. Her serve, the one weapon she can usually rely on, was a complete disaster. She hit seven double faults and won a mere 33 percent of her second serve points.
Donald Young: C-plus. Now barely ranked inside the Top 200, Young decided to try to play qualies in Brisbane as opposed to an ATP Challenger that might have gotten him more matches. It seemed the right move at first, as he beat Olivier Rochs (No. 90) and Mischa Zverev (No. 159). But vindication will have to wait. Young lost in the final round of qualifying to Australia’s John Millman, who’s actually ranked nine spots below him at No. 199.
Andrea Petkovic: F. Dear Australian passport control: please turn away one Andrea Petkovic if she ever tries to cross your borders again. Petko’s bad luck run in Australia continued with a knee injury that left her in tears as she retired from her first match of the season at the Hopman Cup. No schadenfreude here. Get well soon, Andrea.
John Isner: C. New season, same story for Isner. Once again he found himself on the losing end of a couple of tiebreaks, falling to Kevin Anderson 7-6, 7-6 at the Hopman Cup.
Svetlana Kuznetsova: C-plus. One one hand, it’s nice to see the two-time Slam champion back on court. On the other, she lost to Kiki Bertens in the first round of Auckland, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5. Bertens is an up-and-comer, so it’s not a horrible loss in context. We’ll have to see how long it takes for Kuznetsova to find her rhythm and her confidence, assuming she finds them at all.
Mubidala World Tennis Championship: C-minus. The IMG-run Abu Dhabi exhibition is usually a well-attended kick-off for the the ATP’s best, but the tournament found itself on tenuous ground this year after it failed to go after Roger Federer — who left IMG last year — to secure his attendance. That was an unfortunate turn made worse by an IMG executive saying they didn’t go after Federer because “we are celebrating past champions and Roger, unfortunately, hasn’t won the event.” Ouch.
Fast forward and Nadal withdraws from the event at the last minute, Federer turns down the tournament’s overtures to replace him, and Andy Murray loses. Leave it to new IMG client Djokovic to come save the day by playing some exemplary tennis and winning the whole thing.