The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Here is a wrap-up of the Sony Open.
Serena Williams: A. In her first tournament since regaining the No. 1 ranking, Williams won her record sixth Miami title and she didn’t even have to play her best tennis to do it. She came back from a set and 4-1 down to Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, 5-2 down to Li Na in the second set of the quarterfinals and a set and a break down to Maria Sharapova in the final. In winning her second title of the year, Williams showed once again that her status as the best player in the women’s game is equal parts pure talent and mental fortitude. When those two aspects are clicking, she’s impossible to stop.
Andy Murray: A. The new ATP No. 2′s decision to skip any tournaments in February to train for Indian Wells and Miami paid off with his second Sony Open title, beating David Ferrer 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1) in the final. While the rest of the ATP came in fatigued and mentally halfway to Europe, Murray was fresher both physically and mentally. That proved to be the difference in his grueling win over Ferrer.
As an interesting side note, every title that Murray has won since the Olympics has also been won by… Williams. Both were gold medalists at the London Olympics, 2012 U.S. Open champions, Brisbane champions and now Miami champions. Weird, right?
David Ferrer: B-plus. Ferrer did what he does. He made his way through the draw without having to play a member of the Big Four until the final, he fought valiantly and then he lost to … a member of the Big Four. He’ll be regretting that failed Hawk-Eye challenge on his sole match point but should take solace in the fact that given the forehand sitter he gave Murray before he stopped the point, it’s likely Murray would have saved it anyway.
Maria Sharapova: B-plus. Losing 10 straight games after going a set and a break up in the final was rough, but that shouldn’t tarnish the fact that no one had a better March than Sharapova. She won Indian Wells and made the final of Miami without dropping a set for 11 straight matches. And for as much as everyone talks about how hard it is to complete the Indian Wells-Miami double, consider this: Sharapova has made the final of each for two years running.
Tommy Haas: A-plus. Haas’ one-handed backhand breathed much-needed life and suspense into the men’s tournament, which looked like it was heading, ever so predictably, toward a Novak Djokovic-Murray final. His stunning straight-set win over Djokovic in the fourth round was a highlight reel in and of itself, but he backed it up with a win over Gilles Simon and then took the first set off Ferrer in the semifinals, where he lost 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Haas, who turns 35 this week, has cracked the top 15 (at No. 14) for the first time since January 2008. Tommy Haas for World Tour Finals? I’m starting the campaign now.
Novak Djokovic: D. The two-time defending champion was right when he described his loss to Haas as the worst he’s played in a long time. The cold conditions clearly favored Haas’ flatter game, but Djokovic was just off. His movement was sluggish, he was snatching at his forehand and he never looked comfortable. Credit Haas’ variety for keeping Djokovic off-balance, but between his loss to Juan Martin del Potro in Indian Wells and now Haas in Miami, there are a few question marks (small ones) about the state of his game going into the clay season.
Agnieszka Radwanska: A-plus. The defending champion fell to Williams 6-0, 6-3 in the semifinals. But anyone who hits this shot, which made SportsCenter‘s Top Plays and already has more than two million hits, gets top marks from me.
Let’s just watch it again, shall we?
Richard Gasquet: A. Despite the absence of Roger Federer, the one-handed backhand was represented well in Miami, with Haas and Gasquet making the semifinals. Gasquet blew Tomas Berdych off the court 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals and played the most entertaining set of the tournament in the semis, where he took the first set from Murray before fading in a 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-2 loss. Nothing summed up Gasquet’s run as well as the 103 mph backhand he cracked against Murray. Surprising, exciting and a glimpse into the talent I was so close to writing off a year ago.
Li Na: B. In her first tournament since making the Australian Open final in January, Li didn’t drop a set on her way to the quarterfinal. She then ran into the buzz saw that is Serena, losing 6-3, 7-6 (5). That’s a respectable tournament, but without more data points it’s difficult to gauge how she’ll do when the clay season arrives.
Marin Cilic: B-plus. The Croat is knocking on the door of the top 10 (at No. 11) thanks to a solid start to 2013, including a run to the Miami quarterfinals. He defeated Santiago Giraldo, John Isner and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga by winning a second-set tiebreaker in every match. That’s a very positive sign for a guy who should, in my opinion, be a solid top-10 player but hasn’t been ranked that high in three years.
Kirsten Flipkens: A. The bespectacled Belgian is doing the flag proud these days after overtaking Yanina Wickmayer as the country’s No. 1 in February. She broke into the top 25 this week after reaching the Miami quarterfinals, beating Petra Kvitova 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 along the way, and she played a highly entertaining quarterfinal against Radwanska in a match that put touch, feel and variety on full display.
If you haven’t watched Flipkens play, take a look at this highlight reel from her Radwanska match, which features some skilled shot-making.
Sam Querrey: D. Sometimes you just have one of those days where absolutely nothing goes right. Querrey had that day against Berdych in the fourth round, losing 6-1, 6-1. In his first tournament since becoming the No. 1 American, Querrey (who made the fourth round by virtue of a walkover) came out flat and couldn’t seem to get back-to-back forehands into the court.
Jelena Jankovic: A. The more Jelena Jankovic the better, I say. Her personality is just too entertaining to be stuck on the outer courts and toiling away on the edge of relevance. The former No. 1 built on the confidence gained in winning a smaller WTA tournament in Bogota at the end of February by advancing to the Sony Open semifinals. Granted, she was able to do so in large part because of Victoria Azarenka’s injury withdrawal, which left that quarter in complete disarray. But if these recent results mean Jankovic is clawing her way back into the top 15, I’m all for it.
Grigor Dimitrov: C-minus. In Indian Wells, he served for the first set against Djokovic and double-faulted four times. In Miami, he served for the first set against Murray and double-faulted three times. So … progress?