The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, Simona Halep bagged another title and Tomas Berdych ended his drought.
Simona Halep: A-plus. The Romanian continued her incredible eight-month stretch by winning the Qatar Open for her biggest title. Halep began the week needing a third-set tiebreaker to hold off Kaia Kanepi, but she didn’t lose a set in her next four matches, including three against top-10 players — Sara Errani (6-2, 6-0) in the quarterfinals, Agnieszka Radwanska (7-5, 6-2) in the semifinals and Angelique Kerber (6-2, 6-3) in the final. In her most impressive victory, Halep responded to Radwanska’s defense and shot making with a remarkable display of speed, balance and execution.
Halep lacks a signature victory: She has never beaten Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova, and last month’s Australian Open marked her first appearance in a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 15 attempts. Still, with her improved forehand doing damage, Halep looked virtually unbeatable at times in Doha. She made quite an impression with her first title of 2014.
Here’s an example of what Halep did all week:
Tomas Berdych: A. The drought is over for the ATP’s only top-10 player to go title-less last year. Berdych edged Jerzy Janowicz in the quarterfinals, rolled past Ernests Gulbis in the semifinals and cooled off Marin Cilic in the final to win his first event since October 2012. With last week’s results, the 28-year-old Czech rose one spot and supplanted Andy Murray at No. 6.
Maybe he should bring his Sesame Street friends with him at all tournaments. Big Berd and friends:
— Tomáš Berdych (@tomasberdych) February 15, 2014
David Ferrer: A. The Spaniard won his record third consecutive Copa Claro title, snapping Fabio Fognini’s 10-match winning streak with a 6-4, 6-3 victory in the final. Ferrer had lost his last seven tour-level finals.
Kei Nishikori: A. Nishikori defended his title at the U.S. Indoor National Championships, where he beat four players ranked No. 80 or lower, including Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 7-6 (0) in the final. How in the world did Nishikori win a tiebreaker 7-0 against Karlovic? Not a bad way to get his first win in three tries over the Croat.
Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-Wei: A-plus. The duo won the Qatar Open to move to 10-0 in finals. And it gets better from there: Peng is the new No. 1 in women’s doubles, the first top-ranked player, male or female, in Chinese tennis history, and Hsieh is the new No. 2, the highest ranking for any player from Chinese Taipei. Combined with Li Na’s rise to No. 2 in singles, there’s lots to celebrate in Asia this week.
Marin Cilic: A-minus. Cilic followed his title at the Zagreb Indoors with a runner-up finish in Rotterdam, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Murray in straight sets.
Li Na: C-minus. The biggest concern for Li is whether she’ll slump after winning the Australian Open, like she did after winning the 2011 French Open. The early results were underwhelming: As the top seed in the Qatar Open, she won a three-setter against No. 32 Magdalena Rybarikova and lost a three-setter to Petra Cetkovska, a qualifier ranked 134th.
Ernests Gulbis: B-plus. A solid week for Gulbis, who scored straight-set wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Juan Martin del Potro to make the semifinals of Rotterdam, where he came up against Berdych’s lights-out serving.
Angelique Kerber: B-plus. Kerber is 0-2 this year and 3-7 overall in finals after her loss to Halep. But she did play the point of the tournament. Look at this tenacious court coverage against Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals. Unreal:
Sloane Stephens: D. If Stephens is still dealing with a wrist injury that bothered her in Australia and kept her out of Fed Cup, then sitting out the Middle East swing may have been the better call. Instead, the 20-year-old American went to Doha and Dubai, played two matches and didn’t win a set. She lost to Cetkovska 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of Doha and was heavily criticized by commentators for her attitude and effort. Then, before America even woke up to celebrate Presidents’ Day, she tumbled out of Dubai with a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Czech veteran Lucie Safarova.
Eugenie Bouchard: D. Like Stephens, Bouchard finished her Middle East trip with no main-draw wins, losing to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round of Doha and falling to Annika Beck in the final round of qualies in Dubai. Unlike Stephens, Bouchard can point to her Fed Cup duties the weekend before as a partial excuse for her flat play in Doha. As for Dubai, wait … No. 19 Bouchard has to play qualies? Yes. The main-draw cutoff is six weeks before the tournament; at that time, Bouchard’s ranking wasn’t high enough for the main draw.
Venus Williams: C-plus. Her 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7) loss to Petra Kvitova in the second round was the best match of the tournament. Venus couldn’t convert break points to go up 5-1 in the third set or a match point in the tiebreaker. It was another disappointing three-set loss for Venus, but I really do think these types of matches will turn around for her.
Juan Martin del Potro: C-plus. It was surprising to see Del Potro’s name in the Rotterdam draw, given his left-wrist injury, but the defending champion decided to play despite not being 100 percent fit. He started the week with a good 7-6 (6), 6-3 win over Gael Monfils, but by the end of his quarterfinal loss to Gulbis, Del Potro was clearly feeling his wrist.
Igor Sijsling: B-plus. The serve-and-volleying Dutchman had a nice run on home soil as a wild card ranked No. 64, upsetting Mikhail Youzhny and Philipp Kohlschreiber to make the Rotterdam semifinals.
Petra Cetkovska: A. The Czech is finally back in the the top 100, at No. 91, after knocking out Stephens and Li as a Doha qualifier.
Dustin Brown: A-plus. What. Is. This. Shot:
Andy Murray: C-minus. Patience is the name of the game when tracking Murray’s post-surgery form. After taking a late wild card into Rotterdam, he lost to a red-hot Cilic 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. He has dropped to No. 7, his lowest ranking since July 2008.
Dominic Thiem: B-plus. The 20-year-old Austrian, who spent most of last year on the ATP Challenger Tour, had his tour-level coming-out party in Rotterdam, qualifying for the main draw and pushing Murray to three sets in the second round. He’s the youngest player in the top 100 after rising to No. 99. Looking forward to seeing more from him.
Jamie Hampton: A. It seems the American, who is recovering from multiple hip surgeries, has an analyst’s eye:
Can I just say that waaaayyy before Halep was Top 10 someone asked me who’s game I liked. Guess what my answer was. #justsayin
— Jamie Hampton (@Jamie_Hampton) February 15, 2014