The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Novak Djokovic continued his roll through Asia, Juan Martin del Potro impressed and Angelique Kerber and Sam Stosur collected WTA titles.
Novak Djokovic: A-plus. The Serb wasn’t kidding when he said he needed his win over Rafael Nadal at the China Open on Oct. 6. He continued to play inspired tennis at the Shanghai Masters, beating Juan Martin del Potro 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (3) in the final. After blowing leads and going in and out of matches several times this year, Djokovic played a near-perfect final set to hold off the Argentine. His chances of retaking the No. 1 ranking before the season ends are slim, but credit to Djokovic for doing absolutely everything in his power to chase it. He’s up to five titles for the season, one fewer than 2012.
Juan Martin del Potro: A. He was bidding to become the first player to defeat the No. 1 and No. 2 en route to a title since Andy Murray at the 2012 London Olympics, not to mention break through to win his first ATP Masters 1000 tournaments. But, as del Potro said, aside from his slow start, there was little he could have done better in the Shanghai final. Djokovic was just too solid. But if del Potro’s 6-2, 6-4 rout of Nadal in the semifinals reminded us of anything, it’s that del Potro, who clinched his spot in the ATP World Tour Finals, is a force of nature when he’s healthy and confident. With his bothersome wrist rested after the U.S. Open, del Potro’s ability to come over his backhand consistently was the key to his final run. The forehand gets the publicity, but his backhand is what got him to the final.
“I think I’m playing even better than 2009 or 2008 or last year,” Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, said after the final. “That’s important. That’s a good thing for the future. I still have the same goal, which is getting closer to the top guys. If I still work like this, I hope I can be there one day.”
Rafael Nadal: B. The most fitting image from his semifinal loss came during a changeover in the second set, when Nadal was shown laughing at his player box. That was all he could do on a night when del Potro had everything firing and was hitting the ball bigger than we’ve seen in quite some time. Nadal failed to make a final for only the second time all year, and he left Asia without a title. Regardless, it should be an easy loss for him to shake off.
Sam Stosur: A. The 2011 U.S. Open champion’s lack of singles titles has always been surprising, but she added a fifth one last week by rebounding from a first-round loss at the China Open (her seventh opening-round defeat this year) to win the Japan Open. The 29-year-old Australian didn’t beat a player ranked higher than No. 35, but she did rally to defeat Eugenie Bouchard 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the final. Stosur claimed the Osaka crown for the second time and, paired with her victory at the Southern California Open, won two titles in a year for the first time. Those two titles are the only tournaments in which she has advanced past the quarterfinals this year.
Angelique Kerber: A. Her late entry into the Generali Ladies Linz didn’t sit well with her colleagues — Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki were among those who voiced their displeasure — but it was a smart move. She clinched the eighth and final spot for the WTA Championships by making the semifinals and then won her first title of the year by defeating Ivanovic in the final. Kerber completed a solid 11-2 run through the Asian swing, with two victories against Ivanovic and one each against Agnieszka Radwanska, Wozniacki, Robert Vinci, Carla Suarez Navarro and Laura Robson.
Ana Ivanovic: B-plus. The Serb negotiated a tricky draw in Linz to make her first final since 2011. She has ticked back up two spots, to No. 14.
Roger Federer: C-plus. It was quite an eventful week for Federer. He set Twitter ablaze with his impromptu Q&A (which was an “A-plus” on its own), but then lost early again, this time to Gael Monfils in the third round of the Shanghai Masters. To cap it off, he announced his split with coach Paul Annacone.
Genie Bouchard: A-minus. Her strong season-ending surgery continued in Osaka, where she made her first WTA final and nearly beat Stosur in straight sets for the title before losing in three. That run followed qualification into the China Open, where the Canadian won her first-round match, and a quarterfinal appearance at the Pan Pacific Open, where she ousted Sloane Stephens and Jelena Jankovic. Bouchard, 19, who is ranked a career-high No. 32 this week, is on the cusp of being seeded for the 2014 Australian Open. And with No. 36 Madison Keys’ season over, Bouchard will finish the year as the WTA’s highest-ranked teenager. Not sure anyone saw that coming.
Madison Keys: B-plus. The 18-year-old completed her season by reaching her first WTA semifinal, a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Stosur. In her first full year on tour, Keys finished 34-21 and won at least one round in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments. A promising season for her.
Gael Monfils: B-plus. The entertaining Frenchman showed surprising resilience in eliminating Federer. After taking the first set, Monfils couldn’t hold a 5-3 lead in the second set. And then he lost a 5-3 lead in the tiebreaker as Federer won the final four points to force a third set. A typical Monfils performance would have meant losing the third set easily, but he regrouped to win 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 for his second victory in eight meetings against Federer. He backed up that performance by pushing Djokovic to three sets the next day.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: B-plus. It was good to see Tsonga back in a Masters semifinal after his summer injury woes. The fact that he’s in contention for the ATP World Tour Finals despite missing two Masters events and the U.S. Open is a credit to his quietly strong season.
Sloane Stephens: C-minus. She continues to stall in the smaller events, this time blowing a 5-2 lead in the third set to lose to Stefanie Voegele in the Linz quarterfinals. She’s back at it this week at the Luxembourg Open.
Richard Gasquet: D. His quest to qualify for the World Tour Finals stalled with a surprising straight-set loss to Vasek Pospisil in his opening round in Shanghai. He didn’t throw anything on court, though, so I suppose that is progress.
Donald Young: A-plus. This is a bit of a belated grade for Young, but credit to him for winning 12 consecutive matches at the Challenger level, a streak that ended against Tim Smyczek in the quarterfinals in Tiburon, Calif., last week. The 24-year-old American beat Smyczek en route to California-based Challenger titles the previous two weeks in Napa and Sacramento. Young, remember, also qualified for the U.S. Open and won a main-draw match. His late-season work has pushed his ranking to No. 100, which is 102 spots higher than he was in February and eight spots better than No. 108 Ryan Harrison.
Tim Smyczek: A. The last American standing at the U.S. Open broke into the top 100 two weeks ago and moved up to a career-high 87th this week after advancing to the Tiburon semifinals. The 25-year-old is the third-ranked American, behind John Isner (No. 14) and Sam Querrey (No. 34).