Report Card: Novak Djokovic wastes no time on criticized court in Davis Cup

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Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic blasted the Belgium court, then blasted away his foe in his only match. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Novak Djokovic followed up his Australian Open title by rolling in his Davis Cup match.

Novak Djokovic: A-minus. In a weekend when Spain couldn’t be bothered to field a proper team and Switzerland once again went Roger Federer-less and lost another close tie, you have to give Djokovic props for hopping on a plane Monday morning in Melbourne and jetting to Belgium to play a match on heavy indoor clay Friday. With Serbia’s No. 2, Janko Tipsarevic, skipping the tie because of a foot injury, Djokovic’s presence was necessary to ensure that the Serbs would progress to the quarterfinals. He dispatched Olivier Rochus 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 as the Serbs won the first three matches to clinch, and he sat out the reverse singles.

That said, while his forceful criticism of the court surface resulted in improvements by the time the tie began, I’m less sympathetic over his complaints about having to transition from hard courts to clay so quickly. That’s par for the course in Davis Cup. The home team isn’t going to roll out the red carpet for you.

Mona Barthel: A. I’ve been big on the Barthel Bandwagon for more than a year now, and it’s good to see her string together some quality results after falling off so badly at the end of 2012. The German scored top-10 victories against Marion Bartoli and Sara Errani (the latter in the final) in Paris to win her second title and first at the Premier level. She has hit a career-high ranking of No. 28 this week. The 22-year-old is relatively young in her tennis career, having committed to the sport as a full-time professional in 2009 after finishing high school, and it’s good to see that she’s brought on a proper coach instead of sticking with her mother. With a beautifully fluid game off the ground and an effective serve, she’s a top-15 player if she can hold her level through an entire season.

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Frank Dancevic: A-plus. The Canadians knocked out No. 1 seed Spain in the first round of Davis Cup, and they have Dancevic to thank for it. He played inspired tennis to blow past Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 and give Canada a 2-0 lead after the first day. Now ranked No. 151, Dancevic looked unstoppable in hitting 42 winners and playing the best match of his career. “This is definitely up there as one of the greatest moments of my career,” Dancevic said. “I went out there today expecting to play well, but I didn’t expect to play the way I did. I really felt like I was flawless from the first point to the last.” Two days later, Milos Raonic closed out the tie in Vancouver with a straight-set win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Down goes Spain, while the Canadians are into the Davis Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

Maria Kirilenko: A. Always solid, Kirilenko held off a late challenge by Sabine Lisicki to win 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (1) in the Pattaya Open final for her sixth career title. Aside from the tennis, Kirilenko has been killing it on Twitter lately, and her dispatches from the rain-soaked tournament in Thailand were as entertaining as her tennis.

Tomas Berdych: A. Is Berdych the most underrated Davis Cup stalwart at the moment? The guy hasn’t missed a tie for the Czechs since 2010, and he’s called on to play two singles matches plus doubles almost every time. Without his trusty sidekick, Radek Stepanek, who skipped the tie to have neck surgery, Berdych logged more than 12 hours on court over three days — including the seven-hour doubles epic Saturday– to secure all three points for the Czechs, who defeated Switzerland 3-2.

Stanislas Wawrinka: B. It’s been a heartbreaking couple of weeks for Wawrinka, who came out on the losing side of a five-hour duel with Djokovic in Australia and now gets the ignominious distinction of being on the losing side of a seven-hour Davis Cup doubles match that went to the Czech Republic 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 22-24 and set all kinds of “longest-ever” records. Wawrinka reportedly cried during his post-match press conference and said it was the most difficult loss of his career. Less than 24 hours later, he tried to keep Swiss hopes alive in the reverse singles against Berdych but lost 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5).

Marco Chiudinelli: C-minus. Dude, you double-faulted on match point (see the 2:42 mark of the video below)? Who goes for a serve that big on match point of a seven-hour match? Brutal.

Kristina Mladenovic: A. More teenagers making noise. Mladenovic is a great ball-striker, but her erratic play has kept her under the radar. The 19-year-old made a big impression last week in Paris, beating Petra Kvitova, Julia Goerges and Yanina Wickmayer to make the semifinals, where she lost to the eventual champion Barthel. She flat outhit Kvitova off the court. Not too many players have that kind of power.

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Ana Ivanovic: D. A first-round loss in Pattaya City to Ayumi Morita? That 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 scoreline was the head-scratcher of the week.

Kimiko Date-Krumm: A. The Kimiko resurgence continues! She grabbed a doubles title with Casey Dellacqua in Thailand.

Kiki Bertens: B-plus. The 21-year-old from the Netherlands got into the Paris main draw as a lucky loser and scored top-30 wins over Tamira Paszek, Lucie Safarova and Dominika Cibulkova. Unfortunately, that heavy load of seven matches took its toll. She had to retire in the semifinals against Errani with back pain. It continues to be a strong start to the season for Bertens, who made the quarterfinals of Auckland in January and is up to a career-high No. 50.

Sam Querrey: A. Send Mr. Querrey some of your finest mini-muffin baskets, U.S. Davis Cup team, because he came up big for you this weekend. After Bob and Mike Bryan suffered a surprising doubles loss on Saturday and John Isner failed to close out the tie against Thomaz Bellucci on Sunday, Querrey had to beat Brazil’s Thiago Alves for the Americans to advance. He completed the job, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) and saving the U.S. team from what would have been a disastrous upset.

John Isner: C-plus. Expectations were tempered for Isner’s first match since a knee bone bruise kept him out of the Australian Open. Aside from rust, he looked good physically. But mentally he’s still doubting himself, and that showed once again in yet another five-set loss, this time to Bellucci. That’s his sixth five-set loss in a row. “It feels like it’s a huge gorilla on my back or something,” Isner told reporters. “It’s wearing on me a bit, to be honest, mentally. It’s very disappointing.”

Team Brazil: A. They may have lost the tie, but it was a weekend of career moments for the Brazilians. Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares pushed the Bryans into a fifth set for the first time in the Americans’ storied Davis Cup career and eventually handed them just their third Davis Cup loss as a team. Meanwhile, Bellucci came from behind to beat Isner 2-6, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-3.

Peter Polansky: D. There are many creative ways to describe a teammate’s dominating athletic performance. Calling it a form of sexual assault and then dismissing it as a “harmless slang term,” as Canada’s Polansky did, is not one of them.

Victor Troicki: A. Troicki pretty much sealed Belgium’s fate when he rallied from two sets to none down to beat Belgium’s No. 1, David Goffin, 1-6, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-4 and give Serbia a 2-0 lead. Troicki has struggled over the last year. This is a great win for him.

Carlos Berlocq: D. This was Berlocq’s celebration after winning his opening rubber for Argentina when Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber retired with a leg injury at 5-4 in the fifth set. Davis Cup is hyper-emotional, and this was a big win for Berlocq. But come on, that shirt-ripping celebration is ridiculously over the top. Your opponent retired.

Lukas Lacko: B. On one hand, it always makes me cringe when players air their dirty laundry on Twitter. On the other, it’s absolutely fascinating and more than a little entertaining. Last week, Slovakia’s Lacko blasted Martin Klizan for citing an injury in his decision to skip Slovakia’s tie against Ukraine. Ukraine won 3-2.

  • Published On Feb 04, 2013
    Michael9 3 Like

    Here is why it is illogical to give Djokovic an A minus (Victor Troicki was really the reason serbia won) and why it is misleading to say: "Switzerland once again went Roger Federer-less and lost another close tie, you have to give Djokovic props for hopping on a plane Monday morning in Melbourne and jetting to Belgium to play a match on heavy indoor clay Friday." Tennis wroters have been too quick to embellish what Djokovic (and Murray) have done.


    - At his age (25 years 9 months), Djokovic has played only 31 matches (22-9, 71% winning rate) -- he participated in 18 ties out of Serbia's 23 ties during this period (participation rate 78%). Until he won his singles match on Friday, Djokovic had failed to win even a set of Davis Cup in over two years (he skipped Davis Cup last year as well). In April 2012, Djokovic’s presence was even more necessary against the Czech Rep to ensure that the Serbs would progress to the semifinals. Djokovic did not play and a Djokovic-less Serbia was crushed 1-4 by the Czech Rep. -- yet tennis writers avoided saying Serbia once again went Novak Djokovic-less and lost another tie.


    - At Djokovic's age today (April 2007), Federer had already played 41 matches (31-10, 76% winning rate) -- so Federer had already won 31 matches, which is as many matches as Djokovic has played so far! Furthermore, Federer's participation rate of 83% was better than Djokovic's 78%: he participated in 15 ties out of Switzerland's 18 ties during this period (participation rate 83%). Federer's superior participation is even more impressive given that Davis Cup is much less important to the Swiss people than it is to the Serbian people (the Swiss arena was 20% empty and the largest public TV broadcaster did not bother to carry their recent Davis Cup tie live). As I showed before, Federer has played more Davis Cup matches than the vast majority of great players in tennis history (only Edberg, McEnroe, Wilander and Becker have played a few more matches than Federer, who is likely to pass all of them by the time he retires) and more ties than the majority of great players as well as active players.


    - Big deal that, after winning the Australian Open, Djokovic hopped on a plane Monday morning in Melbourne and jetted to Belgium to play a match on heavy indoor clay Friday. Djokovic had to fly back to Europe even if he did not play Davis Cup -- and the trip to Belgium was only an extra hour of flight. Contrast this with Federer in 2011: after a disappointing five set loss to Djokovic at the US Open (where he had matchpoints), Federer did not return home to Europe. Instead, Roger hopped on a plane in New York and jetted the other direction and other side of the world down under to Sydney, Australia to play a match on grass Friday in the middle of the hardcourt season. (according to Tennis Magazine, the Belgian press reported that the French Open's Roland Garros groundskeeper had given his approval to the Belgium clay court).


    - Furthermore, Djokovic played only ONE singles match against Belgium's FOURTH ranking player No. 123 Olivier Rochus -- while it was Viktor Troicki who did the heavy lifting to win both singles (against No. 48 Goffin) and doubles (against No. 94 Darcisand No. 118 Bemelmans). Contrast this with Federer in 2011: Federer played three matches (two singles and one doubles) against former No. 1 and former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt (who has won more grass court matches than Pete Sampras), rising star No. 59 Bernard Tomic and their doubles team of Hewitt/Guccione. In 2012, Federer played in two Davis Cup ties on clay in the middle of the hardcourt seasons: against USA and against Netherlands, the latter on wet, slippery clay.


    On another issue: To give Marco Chiudinelli a C-minus because of one double fault after seven hours is illogical, unless Courtney did not watch 90% of the match. Had it not been for Chiudinelli, the swiss pair would have lost in straight sets. According to Swiss reports, it was Chiudinelli who was the better player on the Swiss doubles team, he retirned consistently and his previous service games were rarely in trouble. It was Wawrinka's subpar play that ultimately cost Switzerland the doubles match (Wawrinka has won only 2 of the 12 doubles matches he has played in Davis Cup). It takes two to win a doubles match -- and Wawrinka is no Radek Stepanek when it comes to doubles.


    Tennisking 1 Like

    I strongly disagree about assessment re: Novak. Novak did not complain about playing on the clay. He criticized the quality of the clay surface which was terrible and unplayable, requiring complete make over over night to meet bare standards of ITF, and it was only improved when ITF threatened to cancel the event.