The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal won titles in Madrid, where Grigor Dimitrov had a breakthrough victory and Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka struggled in returns from lengthy layoffs.
Serena Williams: A. Another week, another title, another demolition of Maria Sharapova (who has lost 12 consecutive meetings), another week at No. 1. Williams successfully defended her Madrid Open title and showed for the first time in more than a decade that she could dominate on all shades of clay, flattening Sharapova 6-1, 6-4 in the final. The scary thing about Williams’ three-title, 19-match winning streak is that she’s not even playing as well as she was at this time last year, when she also won the Family Circle Cup and Madrid Open and came into the French Open streaking.
Rafael Nadal: A. As the other Big Four members fell one by one, Nadal was able to fight through his one blip of a match and find better form late in the tournament. After being two points from losing his quarterfinal against David Ferrer, Nadal rolled past Pablo Andujar in the semifinals and Stanislas Wawrinka in the final to collect his 40th clay title and 55th overall. Nadal, who missed all of January as part of his seven-month recovery from a knee injury, has made the final in all seven tournaments he’s played this year and claimed a tour-leading five titles. Not even the most optimistic Nadal followers could have foreseen this type of dominance in his return.
Everyone who wants to get out of Roger Federer’s shadow: A-plus. Stanislas Wawrinka, aka “The Other Swiss Guy,” has grown more confident since challenging Novak Djokovic in that epic five-setter in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Wawrinka followed up his title at the Portugal Open (where he dispatched Ferrer in the final) by beating two more top-10 players, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, in Madrid to reach his first Masters final since 2008. The 28-year-old has climbed back to No. 10, one spot shy of his career high and his best ranking in almost five years.
Meanwhile, Grigor Dimitrov, aka “Baby Fed,” upset No. 1 Djokovic 7-6 (6), 6-7 (8), 6-3 in the second round. Dimitrov’s breakthrough performance was the match of the week and one I’ll remember simply because the 21-year-old prodigy won by overcoming all of his weaknesses. He didn’t succumb to cramps or get tentative in crucial moments. After watching him double-fault away opportunities against Djokovic and Andy Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively, it was good to see Dimitrov step up and play a thoroughly professional match.
Also, he got to make out with Sharapova. So that seems like a good week for the guy.
Maria Sharapova: B-plus. Dimitrov’s “other half” didn’t drop a set heading into the Madrid final then got dusted by Williams again. That’s par for the course for Sharapova these days. But she gets extra points for handling all of the fanfare surrounding her now “official” relationship with Dimitrov with good humor. It’s nice to see Sharapova have a laugh about the occasional craziness that is her life.
Tomas Berdych: B-plus. After third-round exits at Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Berdych finally put together a good result on clay, beating Murray 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the quarterfinals. He had his chances against Wawrinka in the semifinals, but, as he said on Facebook, he “screwed up.”
Roger Federer: C-minus. All credit to Kei Nishikori, who got the best of Federer 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 in the third round. But the story from that match was Federer’s rusty form in his first tournament since losing to Nadal at Indian Wells in mid-March. Federer still hasn’t made a tournament final this year and he’s 11th in the race for the eight spots for the season-ending World Tour Finals.
Madison Keys: B-plus. The 18-year-old American lost in the final round of qualifying to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and found out she was into the main draw as a lucky loser just 10 minutes before she had to take the court to face Li Na. An hour and a half later, she dismissed the 2011 French Open champion 6-3, 6-2 for her first victory against a top-five player. As she told me this week in Rome, “First top-five win. On clay. Who would have thought?” This was her first tournament on red clay since she was 14, according to Keys.
Laura Robson: A-minus. Not to be outdone by Keys, the 19-year-old Robson crushed fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3, 6-1 in the second round of Madrid to earn her first top-five win, too. She came within a few points of adding Ana Ivanovic to her growing list of scalps, but her fragile serve let her down in a 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (5) loss. Robson’s results followed her split from coach Zeljko Krajan, who questioned her commitment. “It just didn’t click,” she said. “He’s free to say whatever, that’s fine.”
Pablo Andujar: A-plus. The Spanish wild card went into Madrid ranked No. 113 and made his first Masters semifinal with wins over Marin Cilic, John Isner and Nishikori. He benefited from an open draw once Nishikori knocked out Federer, and his third-round opponent, Daniel Gimeno-Traver, retired at 5-5 in the first set. But this was still a strong week for the 27-year-old clay specialist, who has zoomed up to No. 54 after beginning the year with first-round losses in five of his first six tournaments.
Novak Djokovic: C-minus. With his young opponent cramping, Djokovic roared back in the second set to steal the tiebreaker and force a third against Dimitrov. Full of energy and adrenaline, he then let his foot off the gas pedal and allowed Dimitrov to believe he could actually win. Dimitrov took advantage, and Djokovic saw his French Open preparation derailed with an opening-round loss.
Victoria Azarenka: D-plus. Azarenka lost her rhythm, then her head and then her second-round match in her first tournament in about seven weeks. She cooled off Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her opener, and everything seemed to be chugging along nicely against Ekaterina Makarova after a 6-1 first set. Then Azarenka’s shots started flying and Makarova began banging winners to take the second set 6-2. Poised to recover after building a 3-1 lead in the third set, the Australian Open champ went on to lose the last five games and pop off at the umpire after receiving a point penalty for a second code violation. Surely not the return she was hoping for, as her 18-match winning streak in 2013 ended.
Sam Querrey and John Isner: D. With Mardy Fish sidelined and Ryan Harrison’s ranking having plummeted after a string of early-round losses, Querrey and Isner are the lone American representatives on the men’s side during this clay lead-up season. They won one match between them in Madrid (where Isner defeated Guillermo Garcia-Lopez) and both lost in the first round of the Italian Open on Sunday.
Anabel Medina Garrigues: D. Tremendous effort to make the quarterfinals as a wild card and not only push Williams to three but also deal Serena her seventh career 0-6 set. But the gamesmanship that the 30-year-old Spaniard employed of trying to fluff up new balls to slow them down? Are you kidding me? Calling that bush league would be a compliment.
Ana Ivanovic: B-plus. I’m hesitant to get excited about Ivanovic’s results, given her track record of not following through, but consider this: The only player to beat her on clay this year is Sharapova. Ivanovic topped Angelique Kerber and Mona Barthel in Fed Cup, eliminated Nadia Petrova on her way to the Stuttgart quarterfinals and ousted Robson and Kerber en route to the Madrid semifinals. That’s a prolonged string of quality results.