The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Novak Djokovic remained unbeaten since the U.S. Open and Simona Halep punctuated her breakout season with a perfect run at the WTA Tournament of Champions.
Novak Djokovic: A-plus. Here’s what Djokovic has done since losing to Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open final: rip off 17 consecutive victories, win two Masters titles as well as the China Open, and defeat the likes of Nadal, Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro, David Ferrer and Stanislas Wawrinka.
Djokovic has accomplished all of that not by blowing everyone off the court and looking invincible but by being mentally stronger in the tough moments. That’s a positive development for the Serb, who has struggled to keep his focus during matches at times this year. That he enters the ATP World Tour Finals with even an outside chance to finish the year ranked No. 1 is a huge credit to Djokovic’s post-U.S. Open effort. He’s up to six titles this year, equaling last season’s haul, and 40 overall, joining Nadal and Federer as the only active players with that many.
Simona Halep: A-plus. Halep capped her breakthrough year by going 5-0 at the Tournament of Champions, including a 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory against Sam Stosur in the final. The 22-year-old Romanian finished the season with six titles (second to Serena Williams’ 11), 53 match wins (third to Williams’ 78 and Agnieszka Radwanska’s 56) and a career-high No. 11 ranking (a jump from No. 47 to start the year). We’ll have more on Halep’s tremendous 2013 later this week.
David Ferrer: A. Ferrer’s Paris Masters title last year was surprising, but a return trip to the final was an even bigger shocker primarily because he had to upset Nadal to get there. Ferrer snapped a nine-match losing streak to Nadal and beat him for only the fifth time in 25 attempts, taking advantage of a rare sloppy match from his Spanish countryman. He had his chances against Djokovic in the final, too, serving for both sets but losing 7-5, 7-5. Still, this was an impressive run for Ferrer, who also defeated Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, and bodes well for his chances at the World Tour Finals.
Check out the drop-shot winner he hit on break point against Djokovic. Filthy stuff after a rally of that length.
Sam Stosur: B-plus. Stosur made the finals of her last three tournaments, including a title at the Japan Open. She lost three-setters to Halep in the final of the Kremlin Cup and the Tournament of Champions, but playing solid tennis late in the year without a full-time coach has to give her some much-needed confidence going into the offseason.
Roger Federer: B-plus. Federer finally clinched a spot in his 12th consecutive World Tour Finals when he defeated Kevin Anderson in his opening match at the Paris Masters. But the 32-year-old Swiss wasn’t finished; he held off del Potro for his first victory this year against a top-five player and first against a top-10 player since January, when he outlasted Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Federer then challenged Djokovic in the semifinals before losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. He won’t have to wait long for his next match against Djokovic: The two will meet Tuesday in their respective openers at the World Tour Finals.
Federer still has that indoor magic in him:
Bob and Mike Bryan: A. The Bryans tuned up for the World Tour Finals by beating Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares 6-3, 6-3 in the Paris Masters final, the brothers’ first title since the Western & Southern Open in August. The 35-year-old twins have won 11 titles this year, matching their career-high total from 2010 and 2007.
Grigor Dimitrov: B. Can’t argue with the way Dimitrov ended his season. He won first title, at the Stockholm Open, played Federer tough in the Swiss Indoors and last week pushed del Potro to three sets at the Paris Masters. He will finish the year at No. 23, up 25 spots, from No. 48, at this time last year.
John Isner: B. Isner completed his season with a three-set loss to Djokovic in the third round of the Paris Masters. Watching the match, one thing became clear: After upsetting Djokovic at Indian Wells last year and Cincinnati this year, Isner is very much in Djokovic’s head. The Serb looked like he was forcing himself to remain calm after failing to break in the first set, and he let out an exaggerated roar after finally breaking in the second set.
Italian Fed Cup team: A. The Italians won their fourth Fed Cup title in eight years, a reflection of their commitment to the competition. While other countries have struggled to secure consistent commitments from top players, Italy has always been able to rely on its Fab Four of Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Errani and Vinci were last weekend’s heroes, and Pennetta and Schiavone were on hand to cheer for their teammates in Cagliari, Sardinia. If only every other country treated Fed Cup like the Italians.
Juan Martin del Potro: B. What you did here was very entertaining. Now please don’t ever do it again. No one wants you injuring yourself.